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By Reuters Staff

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s Merck KGgA said on Monday it has agreed to pay Swiss biotech Debiopharm up to 900 million euros ($1.08 billion) to develop and commercialise Xevinapant for head and neck cancer.

Under the terms of the licensing deal, Merck will pay Debiopharm 188 million euros upfront and has agreed to further regulatory and commercial milestones worth up to 710 million euros, as well as royalties.

“This late-stage asset complements our Healthcare pipeline, which will be one of Merck’s key growth drivers in the coming years,” Chief Executive Stefan Oschmann said in a statement.

Xevinapant is currently in late-stage testing for previously untreated locally advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, in combination with current standard of care.

Results of a mid-stage study found Xevinapant together with chemoradiotherapy cut the risk of death by 51% compared to the current standard of care, Merck said.

In February 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Xevinapant breakthrough therapy designation.

($1 = 0.8300 euros)

Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Riham Alkousaa