The U.S. drug giant Merck has agreed to acquire cCAM Biotherapeutics, a closely held Israeli developer of cancer immunotherapies, for an amount that could exceed $600 million, the two companies said on Tuesday.
Shareholders of cCAM will receive $95 million in cash now and get up to another $510 million if the company achieves certain clinical development, regulatory and commercial milestones, the companies said.
cCAM will provide Merck with several early drug candidates, most notably CM-24, now being evaluated in a Phase I study for the treatment of melanoma and certain lung, bladder, gastric, colorectal and ovarian cancers.
CM-24 is a humanized monoclonal antibody directed against CEACAM1, which cancer cells utilize to evade and suppress the body’s immune system. cCAM says that makes it a promising target for the development of targeted-immunotherapy.
Gal Markel, chief scientist of the Ella Institute of Melanoma at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, has been conducting research into CEACAM1 and has licensed cCAM to use his findings.
Pini Orbach, cCAM’s chairman and the head of Pharma at Arkin Holdings, cCAM’s parent company, said CEACAM1 looked promising enough to have drawn interest from several major global pharmaceutical companies. cCAM recognized it didn’t have the resources to proceed with further clinical trials and chose Merck, among other reasons, because of its work developing Keytruda for treating recurrent or metastatic cancers of the head and neck, Orbach said.
cCAM, which was founded in 2010 under the Israeli Office of Chief Scientist’s incubators program, will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Merck and continue to develop CM-24. Based in Misgav, outside Haifa, it is led and is led by Tehila Ben-Moshe, a former Protalix executive.