Waltham, Mass.-based Dragonfly Therapeutics struck a licensing agreement worth up to $695 million with Merck. Merck will license exclusive rights to Dragonfly’s TriNKET technology platform for a number of solid-tumor programs, the company announced today.
Joe Miletich, Merck’s head of discovery and preclinical development, said Dragonfly’s technology platform provides a potential for researchers to harness the power of NC cell receptors. That could lead to the development of novel therapeutics targeting solid tumor indications, Miletich said.
Bill Haney, Dragonfly’s chief executive officer, called Merck a “world leader” in solid tumor cancers. Haney said the company has a history of delivering breakthrough therapy options for patients. He pointed to the company’s TriNKET technology platform as a potential accelerator of developing new drug options.
Dragonfly’s TriNKET (Tri-specific, NK cell Engager Therapies) bind to the proteins expressed on both cancer cells and NK cells. The TriNKET system provides “an active connection between cancer cells, and cells of the immune system including NK cells themselves, T cells, B cells, and other cells that help attack and kill cancer,” according to the company. NK cells are part of the natural immune system of every human body. They also express proteins on their surface.
When the binding occurs, Dragonfly said its TriNKET system stimulates NK cells, which makes them aware of cancerous cells. That stimulation allows the NK cells to both kill the cancer cells, as well as notify other immune cells to attack the cancer. In other words, Dragonfly believes that linking to the natural killer cells and sending them to the cancer cells, it will increase the chances of eliminating the tumors.
“Overall, NK cells amplify the effectiveness of T-cells, acting as a sentinel that calls other immune system cells to attack the cancer, as well as broadening the therapeutic window by using their special characteristics of distinguishing cancer, to more specifically target tumor cells,” Dragonfly said on its website.
Under terms of the agreement, Merck will pay Dragonfly up to $695 million in upfront and milestone payments per program as well as royalties on sales of approved products.
Merck isn’t the first company that Dragonfly has collaborated with. Last year the company struck a five-year agreement with Celgene to develop immuno-oncology therapeutics for hematological cancers based on Dragonfly’s TriNKET technology platform.
Dragonfly was launched in 2015. The company was founded by Tyler Jacks, director of MIT's Koch Institute, along with Haney, and Natural Killer cell expert, David Raulet. Dragonfly’s own research is still in the preclinical phase. On its website, the company lists a number of assets but does not provide information about the different indications the company is targeting.