F-star, a biopharmaceutical company developing novel bispecific antibodies, announces a new partnership with Merck, a leading science and technology company, for the development and commercialisation of five bispecific immuno-oncology antibodies (mAb2 ).

Under the agreement and upon delivery of predefined data packages, Merck has the option to acquire five of F-star’s bispecific programmes.

This option includes exclusive development and commercialisation rights to F-star’s preclinical lead asset FS118, which is designed to block LAG-3 (Lymphocyte-Activation Gene 3) and PD-L1 (Programmed Death-Ligand 1), two pathways commonly used by cancer cells to evade the immune system.

In a preclinical model, F-star has demonstrated that FS118 could improve efficacy compared to monotherapy combinations, which supports the potential to initiate a clinical development programme.

Upon option exercise, in addition to FS118, F-star grants Merck exclusive development and commercial rights to four novel bispecific antibodies targeting specific pathways to augment the antitumour immune response.

In return, Merck will pay up to €115 million in upfront, R&D funding and milestone payments in the first 2 years, and make further payments upon exercising its option and based on milestones.

John Haurum, CEO of F-star, said: “This immuno-oncology collaboration expands our strong relationship with Merck and is a further validation of the potential of F-star’s bispecific antibody platform. Our vision is to transform the treatment of cancer. This is the objective of partnering our lead asset FS118 and other next-generation immuno-oncology compounds with Merck.”

“This deal also underscores the attractiveness of our asset-centric business model, which provides a flexible deal-making framework whilst at the same time maximising the value of F-star’s bispecific programmes and technology platform. This approach also provides us with additional non-dilutive cash to support our investment in the development of our own pipeline of bispecific antibodies, with a strong focus on immuno-oncology.”

This collaboration with Merck is held within F-star’s fourth asset centric vehicle, F-star Delta.

Upon the delivery of a predefined data package, Merck has an option to acquire the bispecific programmes through the acquisition of F-star Delta and will make further payments upon option exercise as well as milestones with the potential total deal value reaching over €1 billion.

Luciano Rossetti, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Research and Development at the biopharma business of Merck, commented: “Our collaboration with F-star will help us to rapidly enhance our pipeline and grow our portfolio of bispecific immunotherapies. This deal complements our internal capabilities in immuno-oncology and positions us as a potential leader in this important area of research.”