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Merck acquires innovative insulin firm SmartCells

Published on 03/12/10 at 10:18am
Merck & Co building

Merck has bolstered its early stage diabetes portfolio with the acquisition of SmartCells, a private pharma firm that’s developing a glucose-responsive insulin.

SmartCells’ innovative drug candidate, SmartInsulin, is a once-a-day, self-regulating, injectable formulation for treating diabetes, currently undergoing pre-clinical trials.

Nancy Thornberry, senior VP and head of the diabetes and obesity franchise at Merck Research Laboratories, said: “Maintaining control of blood glucose levels represents a daily challenge for people living with diabetes.

“Through the acquisition of SmartCells we have obtained innovative technology that may enable us to develop glucose-responsive insulin.

“If this investigational technology is ultimately approved for use with patients, it could provide an important new therapy for the treatment of diabetes. This holds the potential to significantly impact the treatment of this disease.

SmartInsulin consists of a layered, biocompatible and biodegradable polymer-therapeutic that is bound to an engineered glucose-binding molecule.

Insulin is released from SmartInsulin only when the therapeutic is unbound by the presence of a specific glucose concentration.

The base patent was filed in 2003 and SmartCells holds an exclusive license to the technology from MIT.

Other applications of this technology include certain endocrine disorders; oncology and for us in drug-device combinations such as event-triggered thrombolytic-eluting stents.

Under the terms of their agreement, Merck will acquire all outstanding stock of SmartCells.

In return, SmartCells will receive an upfront cash payment and be eligible to receive clinical development and regulatory milestones for products that could reach $500 million.

Sales-based payments for products resulting from the transaction will also be payable.

Dr Todd Zion, president, co-founder and chief executive at SmartCells, said: “At SmartCells, we have made important progress in rapidly advancing from early concept towards clinical development.

“This acquisition positions our novel technology for success in the hands of a leading pharmaceutical company with proven expertise and exceptional resources to deliver breakthrough diabetes products to patients.”

The company's core technology was originally developed at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by Dr Zion.

SmartCells has since developed the platform into several clinical candidates with the support of grants from the National Institutes of Health and equity investments from members of Boston Harbor Angels, Angel Healthcare Investors, Beacon Angels and Cherrystone Angel Group.

Merck is one of several pharma firms looking to the future treatments of diabetes, a fast growing chronic disease that currently affects 250 million globally.

In April, Sanofi-Aventis signed a deal with a US biotech firm CureDM to develop a new phase I treatment that could restore patients’ ability to produce insulin.

Ben Adams

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