Merck KGaA has announced the launch of iOnctura SA, a new immuno-oncology company built around two assets from the Healthcare R&D portfolio of the pharmaceutical company. Not to be confused with American pharmaceutical giant Merck, the investment into German Merck’s spinoff company will be managed by the company’s Corporate Ventures Fund.
In addition to the assets contributed by Merck, the company will also develop three candidates from the commercial arm of Cancer Research UK, known as Cancer Research Technology (CRT). The pipeline will focus on targeting immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment.
“Our goal is to modulate key culprits of immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment to maximize the therapeutic potential of checkpoint inhibitors for patients,” said Catherine Pickering, CEO and co-founder of iOnctura. Through our key alliances with CRT and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we are optimally positioned to explore novel combination therapies and advance them quickly to cancer patients.”
Checkpoint inhibitor drugs – including Keytruda and Opdivo – are a promising new form of cancer therapy, however not all patients respond to treatment. Researchers believe that immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment is one of the primary reasons these immunotherapies don’t always succeed in reducing tumor size.
iOnctura will aim to address this barrier to successful immuno-oncology treatment through the development of its five pipeline therapies. The company’s global licensing agreement with CRT will include payments for milestone achievements as well as royalties on sales should the assets eventually receive regulatory approval.
“We’re delighted that these three potential new cancer treatments, partly developed by our drug discovery laboratories alongside leading Cancer Research UK-funded scientists, have been prioritized for further development through the formation of this new company,” said Stuart Farrow, CRT’s director of biology. “The ongoing support by our drug discovery laboratories will hopefully help build a strong development pipeline for iOnctura.”