Merck in $230 million swoop for Vertex cancer programmes

pharmafile | January 16, 2017 | News story | Sales and Marketing Vertex 

Merck has completed a deal with Boston-based biotech firm Vertex Pharmaceuticals for the rights to four cancer programmes worth $230 million. Two of the four are clinical trial stage programmes and the remaining two are in preclinical development. The deal bolsters Merck’s oncology pipeline, an area that Merck have keen to strengthen as part of a wider R&D push.

The deal involves $230 million as an upfront payment, while there will also be additional royalties on an future net sales. Merck will take over the development and commercialisation of all programmes involved in the development of the drugs.

“With this strategic deal, we significantly strengthen our oncology pipeline in two attractive areas where we have leading competence, DNA damage and repair and immuno-oncology – areas which also have promising therapeutic synergy,” said Belen Garijo, CEO of healthcare and member of the executive board of Merck KGaA. “This deal underscores our commitment to accelerate innovation for cancer patients, and we are excited for the opportunity to build on Vertex’s rigorous science and advance these leading programmes.”

The two compounds in clinical trials are VX-970 and VX-803, which are being investigated over Phase 1 and 2 trials across a variety of tumours and patient subtypes expected to respond to ATR inhibition based on biomarker data. VX-803 is of particular interest as orally administered ATR inhibitor that will be examined in combination with chemotherapy. As well as this, Merck will develop a DNA-dependent protein kinase inhibitor programme including the clinical candidate VX-984.

The preclinical candidates include an immunotherapy treatment and a programme “against a completely novel target”.

“The Vertex R&D team has produced a portfolio of first-in-class compounds with the potential to enhance the therapy of multiple cancers,” said Jeffrey Leiden, chairman, president and CEO of Vertex. “We are pleased to partner with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a leader in oncology with exciting complementary assets that will help fully realize the value of these unique compounds and accelerate the programs’ potential benefits for patients.”

Ben Hargreaves

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