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Merck KGaA, F-Star collaborate over bispecific immuno-oncology antibodies

Merck KGaA entered into a strategic collaboration with F-Star Biotechnology Ltd for the development and commercialization of five bispecific immuno-oncology antibodies.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will have the rights to replace or add to these five antibodies using F-Star's bispecific antibody platform.

Among the antibodies covered by the agreement is F-star's preclinical lead asset FS118. This antibody is designed to block LAG-3 and PD-L1, two common pathways used by cancer cells to evade the immune system. Merck will get exclusive development and commercialization rights to FS118 along with the four other novel antibodies which target specific pathways to augment the anti-tumor immune response.

In return, Merck will pay F-Star up to €115 million in upfront, R&D and milestone payments in the first two years. Further payments may be made based on milestones and if Merck exercises certain options.

A bispecific monoclonal antibody is an artificial protein that can simultaneously bind to two different types of antigen. Besides cancer immunotherapy, such antibodies are also being explored for drug delivery.

Other collaborations in the area of bispecific antibodies include an agreement between Merus NV and Incyte Corp. and another one between MedImmune Inc. and Abpro Corp.