BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Merck & Co. Inc. signed a nonexclusive licensing agreement with Transgene SA giving it access to the French gene therapy company's intermolecular homologous recombination technology for the construction of recombinant viral vectors, especially adenoviral ones.

Strasbourg-based Transgene said that technology significantly enhances the speed and reliability with which adenoviral vectors are constructed.

In addition to an initial license fee, Transgene will receive annual payments from Merck, of Whitehouse Station, N.J., for the renewal of its patent rights, as well as milestones linked to the development of products using Transgene's technology and royalties on the sales of those products.

Transgene's business development manager, Michel Hubert, declined to put a figure on the potential value of the deal, saying only that it could be "considerable," depending on the number of products that reach the market. He told BioWorld International that the agreement was open-ended and nonspecific, so Merck can use Transgene's vector technology in any therapeutic field it chooses. But he pointed out that Merck essentially utilizes adenoviral vectors in the vaccines it is developing for viral and infectious diseases in general and HIV in particular.

Hubert also said that this is the first license agreement for the technology Transgene has concluded with an industrial company, although it already has granted licenses to academic institutions and research establishments. "We currently are in discussions with other companies as well," he added.

Transgene is developing gene therapies mainly for cancer (but also for muscular dystrophy) and has five products in clinical development, two of which are in Phase II trials in seven different indications and three in Phase I. In addition to adenoviral vectors, the company also is developing vaccine and nonviral vectors.