UPDATE 1-Merck KGaA seeks partner for immuno-oncology drug by year-end
* Competitive process to find partner for anti-PD-L1 drug
* Experimental drug in hot new area for cancer research
* Merck plans increased investment in biosimilar drugs
* Pharma head Oschmann appointed deputy CEO (Adds details on drug, wraps in management changes)
FRANKFURT, Sept 18 (Reuters) - German drugs and chemicals maker Merck KGaA is in advanced talks with potential partners interested in its experimental cancer immunotherapy drug and expects to clinch a partnership deal before the end of the year.
Its medicine is a so-called anti-PD-L1 agent, one of a number of new drugs from rival companies within the hot research area of immuno-oncology that are designed to make tumour cells more vulnerable to attack by the body's immune system.
U.S.-based Merck & Co, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche and AstraZeneca are viewed as the main players in this new field, which analysts believe could develop into a market worth tens of billions of dollars in annual sales.
As a mid-sized competitor, Merck KGaA has decided to seek a partner for its product, which has already been given to more than 500 patients in early-stage Phase I tests and is seen as a potential treatment in lung, ovarian and Merkel cell skin cancer.
"We have initiated a competitive process to select the best partner for the global co-development and co-commercialisation of our anti-PD-L1 compound," Stefan Oschmann, the head of its pharma business, said in a statement on Thursday. Continuación...