Business Wire

Merck Aims to Double R&D Productivity in Oncology, Neurology and Immunology to Deliver More Medicines to Patients Faster


Merck, a leading science and technology company, today shared updates on the company’s healthcare research and development strategy, aimed at doubling R&D productivity. To achieve the goal of introducing one new product or major indication every 1.5 years on average, the company will focus its expertise and capabilities and leverage synergies within the existing pipeline to deliver transformative medicines in Oncology, Neurology and Immunology, augmented by an increased focus on external innovation. The company expects to maintain the output of its internal discovery engine, while more than 50% of future launches will result from external co-development partnerships and strategic in-licensing of assets for further in-house development. The strategy was shared today at the company’s R&D Update Call.

“We are driven by our ambition to accelerate the discovery, development and delivery of innovative medicines to patients with cancer and neuroinflammatory and immune-mediated diseases,” said Danny Bar-Zohar, Global Head of Research & Development and Chief Medical Officer for the Healthcare business sector of Merck. “With a mindset of design simplicity and resource discipline paired with agility of execution, we will speed the generation of high-quality data that will support our efforts to bring forth more medicines for more patients, faster.”

To increase R&D productivity, the company will build on its established expertise in the underlying biology of its focused therapeutic areas of oncology, neurology and immunology and will leverage technological capabilities, particularly its industry-leading antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology.

Oncology: Synergistic Approaches to Striking Cancer at Its Core

The company’s oncology research and development strategy centers on cancer DNA while building on existing leadership in key cancer types, including head and neck, urothelial and colorectal cancers. The oncology pipeline is focused on synergistic approaches targeting key pathways involved in cancer cell survival, deploying mechanisms to hit cancer at its core:

  • Delivering tumor DNA-damaging payloads right to the cancer with cutting-edge ADC technology
  • Preventing cancer cells from repairing DNA damage, through inhibition of the DNA damage response (DDR)
  • Restoring sensitivity to apoptosis, the cells’ natural death mechanism, which cancer can inhibit

The lead asset in the oncology pipeline is xevinapant, an investigational first-in-class potent oral small molecule IAP (Inhibitor of Apoptosis Protein) inhibitor being evaluated in the curative setting of locally advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (LA SCCHN)—an area that has not seen significant advances in treatment in the past 20 years. Xevinapant, which was in-licensed from Debiopharm in March 2021, builds on the company’s long heritage and extensive expertise in SCCHN. Based on the promising efficacy and safety profile seen in the Phase II trial and the urgent need for new treatments, the company is evaluating xevinapant in two ongoing randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III clinical trials with the goal of transforming the standard of care: the TrilynX study (NCT04459715) in patients with unresected LA SCCHN, and the XRay Vision study (NCT05386550) in patients with resected LA SCCHN who are at high risk of relapse and are ineligible for cisplatin. Additional external studies and real-world evidence are expected to elucidate the potential for xevinapant across additional patient segments.

The company’s broad portfolio of selective and potent DDR inhibitors includes several agents under development that directly inhibit DDR pathways required for cancer cell survival. By attacking the inherent genetic instability of cancer cells, these agents have the potential to exploit this weakness and tip the therapeutic balance in difficult-to-treat cancers. The oral ATR (ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related) inhibitor M1774, which has been designed as a potentially best-in-class molecule, is the leading DDR asset in the pipeline. Recently presented dose-escalation results showed that M1774 at its recommended dose expansion level showed pharmacologically robust exposure and a favorable safety profile. M1774 has broad potential in combination with other DDR inhibitors and other medicines, and as monotherapy in the right genomic context. The DDR portfolio also includes inhibitors of ATM (ataxia-telangiectasia mutated) and DNA-PK (DNA-dependent protein kinase) and has recently been complemented by a collaboration with Nerviano Medical Sciences with the option for a license agreement on the next-generation selective PARP1 (poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase) inhibitor NMS-293.

Earlier this year, M9140, the first ADC developed using the company’s own technology, advanced into human trials. The ongoing Phase Ia study is assessing M9140 in patients with colorectal cancer. M9140 is an anti-CEACAM5 ADC with a topoisomerase 1 inhibitor (exatecan) payload that has been rationally designed for stability in circulation and superior cancer cell killing activity with a broad therapeutic window. M9140 has synergistic potential with DDR inhibition as well.

Neurology and Immunology: Expansion Building on Strength in Neurology and Immune Biology

In neurology and immunology, Merck aims to expand its multiple sclerosis (MS) portfolio with evobrutinib, an investigational, oral, CNS-penetrating, highly selective inhibitor of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) with the potential to become a best-in-class treatment option for relapsing multiple sclerosis (RMS). In a Phase II study and follow-up, evobrutinib is the first BTK inhibitor (BTKi) to demonstrate sustained clinical efficacy for people with RMS through three and a half years and impact early biomarkers of ongoing central inflammation that correlate with disease progression, including slowly expanding lesions volume and levels of blood neurofilament light chain protein.

In pre-clinical studies, evobrutinib modulated both B cells and macrophages (in the periphery)/microglia (in the brain). This approach has the potential to positively impact both progression caused by relapses and silent progression occurring independent of relapse. During Phase II, the BTKi dose-finding study demonstrated that BID dosing achieved maximal efficacy with >95% BTK occupancy maintained in 98% of patients before the next dose. The Phase III readout for evobrutinib is expected in Q4 2023.

Merck also seeks to expand in neurology by evaluating the potential of oral cladribine in neurological diseases where inflammation is a primary driver, such as generalized myasthenia gravis.

The company is looking to diversify the pipeline with immunology and accelerate R&D by focusing on targets with proven biology via novel modalities. Key to these efforts is the ongoing Phase II WILLOW study of the TLR7/8 inhibitor enpatoran in cutaneous and systemic lupus erythematosus. Building on expertise in neurology, the company is initiating a proof-of-concept study in neuromuscular conditions dermatomyositis and polymyositis with enpatoran in 2023. These conditions have a high unmet medical need characterized by progressive muscle weakness and show lupus-like patterns of immune activation and TLR7/8 expression.

“Patients rely on us. By building on our existing strengths and maximizing synergies within our in-house discovered pipeline and with external assets, we will secure sustainable R&D productivity that leads to innovative medicines for patients in need,” Bar-Zohar added.

To access the presentation and a recording, please visit the company’s website at

All Merck press releases are distributed by e-mail at the same time they become available on the Merck website. Please go to to register online, change your selection or discontinue this service.

About Merck

Merck, a leading science and technology company, operates across life science, healthcare and electronics. More than 60,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live. From providing products and services that accelerate drug development and manufacturing as well as discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. In 2021, Merck generated sales of € 19.7 billion in 66 countries.

Scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship have been key to Merck’s technological and scientific advances. This is how Merck has thrived since its founding in 1668. The founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed company. Merck holds the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the business sectors of Merck operate as MilliporeSigma in life science, EMD Serono in healthcare, and EMD Electronics in electronics.

To view this piece of content from, please give your consent at the top of this page.

Contact information

Media Relations
Phone: +49 151 1454-9591

Investor Relations
Phone: +49 6151 72-3321

About Business Wire

Business Wire
Business Wire
24 Martin Lane
EC4R 0DR London

+44 20 7626 1982

(c) 2018 Business Wire, Inc., All rights reserved.

Business Wire, a Berkshire Hathaway company, is the global leader in multiplatform press release distribution.

Subscribe to releases from Business Wire

Subscribe to all the latest releases from Business Wire by registering your e-mail address below. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Latest releases from Business Wire

Dentalis Animal Health appoints Advisory Board4.2.2023 15:09:00 CET | Press release

Dentalis Animal Health, a company specializing in Oral Health care for companion animals, has announced the appointment of its Advisory Board. Michael Kelly Michael Kelly is an Animal Health Pharmaceutical Industry veteran with broad international business experience. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Cornell University, Michael was hired by Ciba-Geigy to begin his post graduate career in Switzerland. Eventually ending up in the Novartis Animal Health US Division (following the Ciba-Sandoz merger) he rose to CFO and VP of North America. In 2009 Kelly joined Piedmont Animal Health (PAH), a drug development company, and served various roles including CFO, COO and President. During his tenure at PAH the organization received more FDA Companion Animal Drug approvals than any other Company in the Industry. Dr Stephanie Livermore Dr. Stephanie Livermore has been practicing companion animal medicine and surgery since her graduation from the University of Guelph in 2008. Dr. Livermore

Autel Brings MaxiCharger DC Compact to eCarExpo and Signs Partnership Agreement with Leading Charging Operator Eways4.2.2023 09:00:00 CET | Press release

Autel, a leading provider of automotive electronics and diagnostic equipment and tools, exhibited for the first time at eCarExpo, the largest electric vehicles fair in the Nordic countries, on February 3-5, 2023, in Friends Arena, Stockholm. Autel brought its portfolio of products featuring the recently launched electric vehicle charger the MaxiCharger DC Compact. This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: Autel signs partnership agreement with leading charging operator Eways (Photo: Business Wire) As Autel's newly launched DC charger for EVs, the MaxiCharger DC Compact is not only sleek and compact with a 21.5-inch LCD touchscreen, but also powerful enough to provide up to 47kW of power for the European version. Either placed on a pedestal, or set on wheels for ultimate portability, the MaxiCharger DC Compact is perfect for charging operators wanting to provide their customers with a quick charge option

U.S. FDA Approves Takeda’s TAKHZYRO ® (lanadelumab-flyo) to Prevent Hereditary Angioedema (HAE) Attacks in Children 2 Years of Age and Older4.2.2023 00:48:00 CET | Press release

Takeda (TSE:4502/NYSE:TAK) today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the supplemental Biologics License Application (sBLA) for the expanded use of TAKHZYRO® (lanadelumab-flyo) for prophylaxis to prevent attacks of hereditary angioedema (HAE) in pediatric patients 2 to <12 years of age.1 Prior to today’s approval, the only approved routine prophylaxis treatment options for children 6 to <12 years of age required dosing every three to four days,and children with HAE 2 to <6 years of age had no approved prophylaxis treatment, making TAKHZYRO the first prophylaxis treatment for this age group.1-5 The recommended dose is 150 mg/1 mL solution in a single-dose prefilled syringe every four weeks in patients 2 to <6 years of age and every two weeks in patients 6 to <12 years of age.1 HAE attacks can involve serious and debilitating swelling in the abdomen, face, feet, genitals, hands and throat.5,7 Potentially fatal upper airway angioedema has been reported i

SLB Completes Acquisition of Gyrodata Incorporated3.2.2023 22:05:00 CET | Press release

SLB (NYSE: SLB) today announced it has completed the acquisition of Gyrodata Incorporated, a global company specializing in gyroscopic wellbore positioning and survey technology. The transaction will incorporate Gyrodata’s wellbore placement and surveying technologies within SLB’s Well Construction business, bringing customers innovative drilling solutions. This combination will improve wellbore quality and reduce drilling risk to unlock even the most remote and complex reservoirs. Integrating three-axis solid state gyro measurements with the latest SLB technological innovations will help ensure tighter trajectory control, reduce data acquisition time and improve the decision-making process—resulting in greater overall drilling efficiency. “I’m excited for this historic moment that will bring innovative solutions to the SLB Well Construction division and our industry,” said Jesus Lamas, president, Well Construction, SLB. “The technology-driven acquisition of Gyrodata is aligned with SL

Gallagher Re Joins ABIR and EY as 2023 Bermuda Risk Summit Headline Sponsors3.2.2023 16:17:00 CET | Press release

The Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA) is pleased to announce that Gallagher Re has joined the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR) and EY as headline sponsors of the second annual Bermuda Risk Summit. Adam Schwebach, Executive Vice President, Gallagher Re, said, “Gallagher Re is proud to support the second Bermuda Risk Summit, an annual event that showcases the breadth and versatility of Bermuda’s globally significant risk market. This event serves as a timely opportunity to connect with industry leaders ahead of midyear renewals and we applaud the BDA for their efforts in making the Bermuda Risk Summit a success.” David Hart, BDA CEO, said, “We are just so excited to welcome Gallagher Re as our third and final headline sponsor, along with ABIR and EY. The theme of the 2023 Bermuda Risk Summit, being held from March 6-8, 2023, at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club is ‘Innovation, Sustainability and Collaboration. We anticipate an even stronger attendance level