2023-01-04| Licensing

PDS Buys IL-12 Targeting Therapy From Merck KGaA for $121 Million Biobucks

by Reed Slater
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To bolster its oncology portfolio, PDS Biotech purchased the licensing rights to Merck KGaA’s IL-12 targeting drug, M9241, for $5 million upfront and room to grow with milestones. The drug is an exciting grab for PDS with a promising clinical track record that the company hopes will pair well with its proprietary T-cell activating platform. 

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Starting the Year With a Big Deal

PDS’s M9241 purchase is one of the first biotech deals of 2023, and it will add another promising candidate to the company’s growing list of oncology prospects. The company plans to pair the IL-12 targeting therapy with its novel Versamune platform designed to activate T-cells and stimulate an immune response to a cancer-specific protein.

The National Cancer Institute already studied M9241 (then referred to as NHS-IL12) in combination with PDS’s primary candidate, PDS0101, and bintrafusp alfa. The Phase 2 study evaluated the triple combination in patients with previously treated HPV-associated cancers. The study showed promising results like increased overall survival rates, increased HPV16-targeted T-cells, and significant tumor shrinkage in many patients. 

With some experience in the clinic already, PDS is excited to have global licensing rights to the drug to further its development. Upon closing the deal, PDS will assume development, commercialization, and manufacturing responsibilities for M9241.

PDS pledged $5 million in cash upfront for M9241, with up to $11 million in development and regulatory milestones and up to $105 million in commercial milestones. Merck KGaA will also receive up to 10% royalties on future sales with standard step-down provisions. PDS also agreed to give Merck KGaA 378,787 common shares in its stock, valued at $5 million based on the December 30 closing price. 

Chief Medical Officer at PDS, Dr. Lauren V. Wood, said, “M9241 seems to be unique in its ability to target the tumor’s microenvironment and appears to further promote proliferation of Versamune®-induced T cells in the tumors while also potentially enhancing the killing potency of the T cells. With the addition of M9241 to our Versamune®-based pipeline products, our goal is to develop and achieve checkpoint inhibitor-agnostic and independent combinations in advanced cancers.”

Merck KGaA’s sale of M9241 is an exciting development for PDS, which plans to leverage the asset to advance its oncology pipeline. The potential $121 million deal is a refreshing move to start off the year and, with the drug’s clinical track record so far, seems to be a great addition to PDS and its Versamune T-cell activating platform. 

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