Merck is collaborating with Harvard to develop a treatment for leukemia and other cancers. The Harvard school has described it to be the most important licensing and research deal struck by their technology transfer office.
According to Boston Globe an upfront payment of $ 20 million to license technology developed in the Cambridge lab of Harvard, scientist Matthew Shair will be made by Merck under the agreement.The work has been backed by the four-year-old Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator, which was established by the university’s Office of Technology Development to fund early-stage research at Harvard and outside laboratories.
If the drug candidate emerging from the research collaboration meets scientific and regulatory goals, Harvard will be eligible for milestone payments and also royalties from revenues, if the drug is approved for sale from Merck. The milestone payments and royalties remain undisclosed.
However,Harvard’s Chief Technology Development Officer, Isaac T. Kohlberg, said the alliance had the potential to become the “most significant” to date for his group.
The Harvard research focuses on acute myeloid leukemia, the most common form of acute leukemia.
“It’s a disease that has no cure,” Kohlberg said. “Fighting cancer is a major, major goal, and taking a project like this so far down the development path and reaching this agreement shows we are committed to bringing this drug forward to benefit patients.”
Scientists in Shair’s lab in Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, supported by biological studies done at contract research organizations, discovered a path toward blocking enzymes that can play a role in leukemia by altering the way genes are regulated.
The enzymes’ potential as cancer drug targets have not been previously recognized.
The Harvard scientists have also developed for clinical trials small-molecule drug candidates that can be taken orally for clinical trials .
Merck, based in Kenilworth, N.J., runs a research centre in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area and a business development office in Cambridge. The company will be responsible for taking the program forward into clinical testing in partnership with Harvard.
“The reason that Merck wanted to work with us is that this [science] wasn’t on pharma’s radar,” said Curtis Keith, chief scientific officer at Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator. “That’s what we bring to the table.”
In addition to licensing technology, the Blavatnik accelerator will be launching biopharma startups. Its first was Macrolide Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Newton company that is developing antibiotics.
The Harvard Office of Technology Development starts more than a dozen companies a year. Among the most prominent recent ones were Cambridge gene-editing pioneer Editas Medicine Inc. and Semma Therapeutics Inc., a Cambridge company that is developing stem-cell treatments for diabetes.