Discovering New Medicines in Cancer


Sponsored Content by EMD Serono, Inc.

Our ambition is to outsmart cancer by translating our science into health. The combination of our people and heritage is a particular advantage we have in achieving this goal. Our teams are curious, bold, and driven to deliver potentially transformative medicines to patients with cancer. Our heritage of science-based precision medicine and immuno-oncology means that we can branch into synergies to bridge different aspects of cancer research, in an agile and uncompromising manner. Our research focus is on three key mechanistic pillars: oncogenic pathways; immuno-oncology (IO); and DNA damage response (DDR); and, we are developing new approaches in key tumor types in GI, GU and thoracic cancers, all areas with significant unmet treatment needs. Together, we are transforming cancer care—today and tomorrow.

Joern-Peter Halle, Global Head of Research at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany*

Joern-Peter Halle, Global Head of Research at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany*

A single move in chess can reveal a clear winner or result in stalemate or resignation. Chess is competitive and complex, and the aim is to outsmart your opponent. Like a chess player, cancer tunes our immune system in its favor, exploits the weak spots in our treatments and is indiscriminately unforgiving. Patients, and their loved ones, are held hostage by cancer and despite advances in cancer care, there are still many patients with unmet needs.

Our team, our knowledge, our experience

That is why at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we focus our scientific discovery to unleash the full potential of promising mechanisms in cancer research. To do this, we need to stay humble, and curious about how we can do things differently. Curiosity, passion, and a sense of urgency drive us to uncover the full potential of our research.

Science and data come first, along with a little bit of serendipity. We start with our deep knowledge of the biological mechanism, observe clinical outcomes, and then reverse translate insights into new discovery projects.

By combining innovation, synergies, and our heritage in early precision medicine, we are harnessing the power of biomarkers to make cancer precision medicine a reality for more patients by finding the right balance between target, compound, combination, and patient. Learning is very important, sometimes a ‘no’ in this process can help bring medicines to patients faster—if you identify and learn from it. This was the case in initial clinical trials of our c-MET targeting therapy for lung cancer. With initial insufficient response rates in broader patient populations we went back and analyzed the clinical biomarker data and complemented this with pre-clinical experiments. By diverting resources quickly and adjusting our strategy we were able to bring this medicine to patients. Through utilization of innovative approaches in our research, such as liquid biopsy, we hope to advance not only how patients with cancer can be diagnosed and treated, but also how we develop and test potential cancer medicines.

Biological harmony

Accelerating the translation of science into health requires something fresh. At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we’re leveraging synergistic outcomes across our portfolio.

We are currently exploring next generation antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). Here we are investigating novel, highly-tumor specific targets and bispecific approaches, as well as combination potential with immuno-oncology and DDR inhibition agents.

Synergy between mechanisms may be powerful. We brought the first of our ADCs into clinical development with the idea that EGFR is a good target for ADCs. However, we knew that—as EGFR is also expressed in healthy tissue—toxicity of EGFR-targeting ADCs might be too high. We needed to more specifically steer the toxic payload to tumor cells. Now, we are starting to show that our MUC1-EGFR bispecific ADC’s dual binding to EGFR and tumor-associated MUC1 results in efficient ADC uptake, intracellular payload and subsequent tumor-cell death, leading us to believe that bispecific binding mode may potentially increase tumor selectivity. We have already seen promising preclinical activity in SCCHN, NSCLC and ESCC, and are looking at combination potential with IOs based on a potential immuno-modulatory effect of the payload. Building on the emerging validation of our bispecific ADC concept, we are exploring now if alternative payloads that induce DNA damage and replicative stress, if combined with DDR inhibitors from our portfolio, could potentially increase the ADC-induced cell death in tumor cells while sparing normal tissue.

Cancer biology and cancer research is an intellectual challenge akin to playing chess with cancer. We’re trying to anticipate how and when cancer will escape our medicines and think two steps ahead in an effort to translate science into health. Our curiosity drives us to discover and develop medicines for some of the most challenging cancers, and patients inspire us to relentlessly pursue scientific breakthroughs that we hope will make a difference in their lives.

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