Moderna and Merck Expand mRNA Cancer Vaccines Collaboration

Moderna Therapeutics and Merck announced an expansion of their 2016 collaboration to develop and commercialize novel personalized messenger RNA (mRNA) cancer vaccines to now include shared antigen mRNA cancer vaccines including mRNA-5671, Moderna’s mRNA KRAS cancer vaccine.

Moderna developed mRNA-5671 starting in 2017. The two companies will now advance jointly mRNA-5671 in human studies, and plan to conduct combination studies with additional immuno-oncology therapies.

“Augmentation of immune responses offers great promise in cancer therapy, as our work with the PD-1-specific antibody KEYTRUDA has shown,” said Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, President, Merck Research Laboratories. “We now look forward to expanding our exploration of mRNA cancer vaccines, working in concert with our colleagues at Moderna.”

Under the expanded agreement, Merck will be responsible for clinical development of mRNA-5671 and associated costs while Moderna will be responsible for clinical supply and associated costs. Following the completion of human proof-of-concept (hPOC) studies, Merck may opt-in on further development and commercialization of mRNA-5671 upon payment of an undisclosed fee to Moderna. Following opt-in, the parties will share equally the global net profits and costs associated with mRNA-5671. As part of this agreement, the parties may also initiate and collaborate on other shared antigen mRNA cancer vaccines programs. In addition, Merck will make a $125 million investment in Moderna in newly priced series H preferred equity. Moderna closed a series G round earlier this year.

“We are excited to build upon our productive relationship with Merck and to rapidly advance our novel mRNA-based KRAS cancer vaccine into the clinic,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s Chief Executive Officer. “While KRAS has long been a challenging target, we believe our mRNA platform offers a novel approach designed to generate and specifically present KRAS mutations to the immune system, potentially allowing the patient’s own immune system to attack and eradicate cancers that harbor these mutations.”

KRAS is one of the most frequently mutated oncogenes in human cancer, occurring in approximately 90 percent of pancreatic cancers and 30 percent of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), where they are associated with worse outcomes. Presentation of epitopes containing KRAS mutations to the immune system may elicit an anti-tumor response. mRNA-5671 encodes for the four most commonly found KRAS mutations, and is designed to target most of the KRAS mutations that occur in NSCLC, colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer.

The Moderna KRAS mRNA program utilizes tumor sequencing to identify suitable patients with specific mutations in KRAS in order to personalize their therapy, and complements the other personalized mRNA cancer vaccines in the collaboration.

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