Although the two began working together back in 2010, this is (by far) their largest joint effort — on specific antibodies, with the hope of identifying new oncology and autoimmune disorder therapies — per a story in this morning’s online edition of Xconomy Seattle — do go read it all:
. . . .Merck has made plain that it needs to elevate its game in biotech drug development, and that means turning to partners for help. The latest chapter in this ongoing story is now unfolding at a little company called Zymeworks in Vancouver, BC.
Zymeworks is announcing today it has secured a partnership with Whitehouse Station, NJ-based Merck to develop new antibody drugs for cancer and autoimmune diseases that are engineered to hit two or more targets on cells instead of just one. In exchange for helping Merck create these so-called “bispecific” antibodies, Zymeworks is getting an undisclosed cash fee upfront, plus milestone payments, which could be worth as much as $187 million over time if drugs from the partnership reach certain goals. Merck will have exclusive worldwide rights to sell drugs from the partnership. . . .
Zymeworks had interest from several partners in its technology, Tehrani says, but chose Merck for a few reasons. First, Merck provided enough validation of the technology, and upfront cash, to help stir up some more interest among investors in putting more capital into the company, Tehrani says. Plus, Merck’s development capabilities at its Palo Alto, CA-based biologics facility were a cut above facilities from other companies, he says.
“We are protein engineers. They are drug developers with a detailed understanding of biologics,” Tehrani says. “We see a long term strategic collaboration. . . .”
Zymeworks believes that the antibodies developed using its Azymetric™ platform, unlike native one, consist of two different heavy chains engineered to exclusively assemble into a single molecule, thereby allowing bi-specific binding of two different antigens — or drug targets. However, similar to natural antibodies, heterodimeric antibodies retain long serum half-lives and, it is hoped, the ability to induce effector function. Stay tuned — come 2018 or 2019.