German drugmaker Merck KGaA aims to double its research and development productivity, outlining plans on Monday to average launching one new medicine or major new treatment indication every 18 months.
The company will focus on developing drugs for cancer, neurological and immune diseases, as well as on increasing the number of new launches that are sourced from partnerships and licensing deals with other companies.
Internally, Merck KGaA plans to dedicate more resources to antibody drug conjugates, a type of targeted cancer therapy, and drugs capable of degrading proteins. Antibody drug conjugates have drawn renewed interest from pharmaceutical companies following the success of medicines like AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo's breast cancer treatment Enhertu.
“We are driven by our ambition to accelerate the discovery, development and delivery of innovative medicines to patients with cancer and neuroinflammatory and immune-mediated diseases,” Danny Bar-Zohar, head of R&D and chief medical officer for Merck KGaA's healthcare business, said in a Monday statement.
Merck KGaA, which is a major industry manufacturer as well as drug developer, sells several blockbuster medicines, including the cancer treatment Erbitux, the immunotherapy Bavencio and the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif.
But pharmaceutical sales made up only about a third of its revenue in the third quarter, with the rest coming from its contract services and electronics businesses.
Merck KGaA hopes to boost its pharmaceutical business by accelerating the pace of its launches and by tapping external partners more often. Leading its current pipeline are a Bruton's tyrosine kinase inhibitor called evobrutinib, in development for multiple sclerosis, and xevinapant, a drug being tested as a treatment for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. Important clinical trial data for both drugs are expected next year and in 2024.
Earlier in its pipeline are nearly a dozen experimental antibody drug conjugates, two of which have advanced into human testing. The company is working with new technology for the tumor-killing payload these drugs deliver, and for the linking compound that ties that payload to a targeting antibody.