Darmstadt / Lausanne (dpa) - The pharmaceutical and chemical group Merck is strengthening its cancer drug business with a license agreement.

The Darmstadt-based company is acquiring the exclusive worldwide rights to develop and market the drug Xevinapant against head and neck tumors from the Swiss company Debiopharm, as the Dax group announced on Monday.

Debiopharm will receive an advance payment of 188 million euros as well as up to 710 million euros in performance-related payments for approval-related and commercial milestones.

"This late-stage candidate complements the pipeline of our Healthcare business sector, which will be one of the most important growth drivers for Merck in the coming years," said Merck CEO Stefan Oschmann.

Xevinapant is currently in the late phase of clinical development, the company said.

It is currently being investigated in a phase III study in patients with untreated, locally advanced high-risk squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The exclusive rights apply worldwide including the USA.

The deal is expected to close at the beginning of the second quarter,

“By bringing our specialist knowledge and many years of experience in the field of head and neck tumors to the development of Xevinapant, we are opening up opportunities to explore an important new treatment option in an area with high therapeutic needs in which other approaches such as immunotherapy have only achieved limited success so far, ”said Peter Guenter, Head of Merck's Healthcare division.


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