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Merck to pay up to $1.4B in cancer deal with Kelun, but details are scarce

May 21, 2022
Life sciences

Merck & Co. is plucking a cancer project from the branch of Chinese-based Kelun Pharmaceutical for up to $1.4 billion, but details from the New Jersey-based Big Pharma have been hard to come by.

The deal, first disclosed Monday on the Shenzhen stock exchange, has Merck handing over $47 million in upfront cash in exchange for ex-China rights to a “macromolecular tumor project.” However, what exactly is being exchanged remains unknown; Kelun has more than a dozen oncology assets, with 11 in clinical trials and three in preclinical testing.

A Merck spokesperson said in an email the company had nothing to add beyond what was released in the disclosure.

Translated from Chinese, the disclosure says Merck will pay $17 million off the top and an additional $30 million after the agreement is formally signed. Kelun stands to earn up to $1.36 billion in cumulative milestones.

It’s not the first time Kelun has made a licensing splash. In 2018, it inked a deal for its midstage PD-L1 antibody with Harbour BioMed for up to $350 million.

As for Merck, the plucking of Kelun’s project comes as it reportedly considers larger M&A plays to capitalize on biotech’s bear market. A few of the names supposedly on the company’s shortlist are Mirati Therapeutics, Strand Therapeutics and Arcturus Therapeutics.

By Max Bayer


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