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Merck Pays $175M Upfront for Rights to Seven Kelun-Biotech Antibody-Drug Conjugate Candidates

NEW YORK – Merck and Kelun-Biotech said on Thursday that they have inked a partnership to develop seven antibody-drug conjugates.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will pay Kelun-Biotech $175 million upfront, and will potentially pay up to $9.3 billion in regulatory and sales milestone payments. Kelun-Biotech will also receive tiered royalties on net sales of any commercialized antibody-drug conjugate.

In exchange, Merck will gain exclusive global licenses from Kelun-Biotech to research, develop, manufacture, and commercialize preclinical antibody-drug conjugate candidates as well as exclusive options for additional antibody-drug conjugate licenses. Kelun-Biotech will retain the rights to research, develop, manufacture, and commercialize the antibody-drug conjugates in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. The $9.3 billion figure is contingent on whether Kelun-Biotech retains mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau rights for the option ADCs and all candidates achieve regulatory approval.

Merck also plans to make an equity investment in Kelun-Biotech.

According to a spokesperson from Merck, the antibody-drug conjugate candidates will be developed for biomarker-defined cancer patient subpopulations, "per our long-term biomarker-driven strategy."

"Advances in ADC technologies are yielding a new generation of candidates designed to more precisely target and deliver potent anticancer agents to the tumor site," Dean Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement. "We continue to augment our oncology pipeline and look forward to working with the Kelun-Biotech team to advance these candidates to the patients that need them."