September 6, 2017 / 2:02 PM / a year ago

Merck & Co snaps up 3 yr-old German biotech firm for up to $550 mln

FRANKFURT, Sept 6 (Reuters) - U.S. pharma group Merck & Co has acquired 3-1/2 year old German biotech start-up Rigontec for up to 464 million euros ($554 million), adding a new approach to its development of drugs that spur the immune system to attack tumours.

Merck, maker of promising cancer immunotherapy Keytruda, agreed to pay 115 million euros upfront for the Munich-based firm and up to 349 million euros on top, depending on regulatory and commercial achievements, the two companies said in a statement on Wednesday.

Rigontec just started testing its most advanced compound RGT100 on humans in May, banking on a mechanism of action called RIG-I which is designed to trigger a long-term response of the innate immune system, the body's first line of defense against infections.

Rival Bristol-Myers Squibb Co last month banked on a similar medical approach when it agreed to buy IFM Therapeutics for an upfront payment of $300 million.

Rigontec was founded in early 2014 as a spin-off of the University of Bonn and has raised close to 30 million euros from a number of life science investors.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger, editing by Louise Heavens

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