- Merck & Co. said Monday it will buy Tilos Therapeutics, a drug developer focused on targeting a powerful cytokine called TGF-beta as a way to treat cancer, fibrosis and autoimmune diseases.
- Between upfront and milestone payments, Merck could pay as much as $773 million in the deal. The companies did not specify further financial details.
- Founded in 2016, Tilos has been developing antibodies focused on controlling the tumor microenvironment via a protein associated with TGF-beta that's known as LAP. Broadly, TGF-beta-focused drugs are seen as a potential partner to the checkpoint inhibitors which have driven immuno-oncology forward in recent years.
Treatments aimed at TGF-beta, short for transforming growth factor, have seen renewed interest as immuno-oncology's boomed — a research trend highlighted by Merck's deal for Tilos.
"Tilos has developed a compelling portfolio of candidates that employ a novel approach to modulating the potent signaling molecule [TGF-beta] by binding to latency-associated peptide, with potential applications across a range of disease indications," said Dean Li, Merck Research Laboratories' senior vice president of discovery and translational medicine, in a June 10 statement.
Other biotechs are working to advance TGF-beta therapies, too.
Scholar Rock, for one, went public last year and in December inked a deal with Gilead for a preclinical fibrosis program. In that agreement, the big biotech laid out nearly $1.5 billion in potential milestone payments.
One of the most advanced experimental drugs is galunisertib, Eli Lilly's TGF-beta therapy that has shown some promising clinical results in pancreatic cancer.
For Merck, the deal gives some exposure into TGF-beta at the same time that German Merck has begun a direct clinical challenge to the pharma giant's key immunotherapy, Keytruda (pembrolizumab).
Merck KGaA has kicked off a Phase 2 trial in non-small cell lung cancer that pits its experimental monotherapy M7824 against Keytruda as a first-line treatment. M7824, also called bintrafusp alfa, is a bispecific targeting both TGF-beta and PD-L1. In February, GlaxoSmithKline entered into a partnership with German Merck over M7824.