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Merck acquires Swiss firm OncoEthix

pharmafile | December 19, 2014 | News story | Sales and Marketing Cancer, FDA, Merck, OTX015, cubist, keytruda, oncoethix, pembrolizumab 

Hot on the heals of its Cubist buyout Merck has confirmed the acquisition of OncoEthix, a Swiss based firm which specialises in oncology drug development.

Through the takeover Merck attains investigational novel oral BET (bromodomain) inhibitor OTX015 – that is currently in Phase Ib studies for the treatment of advanced solid tumours. 

In a deal worth $110 million upfront, Merck may also be required to shell out extra payments of up to $265 million based upon certain clinical and regulatory milestones being reached.

“Oncology is a priority area of focus for Merck and the acquisition of OncoEthix supports our strategy to prioritize the development of innovative molecules with the potential to improve the treatment of advanced cancers,” says Dr Roy Baynes, senior vice president, global clinical development at Merck. 

Founded in 2009, OncoEthix has been busy developing a small portfolio of oncology candidates. Its lead product OTXO15 demonstrated meaningful clinical activity in patients with haematological malignancies in Phase I studies. 

“The potential first-in-class oral BET inhibitor, OTX015, has demonstrated early promising activity in hematological cancers and strategically complements our broad immuno-oncology development programme,” adds Baynes. 

The experimental inhibitor targets BET bromodomain proteins (BRD2/3/4) – compounds that are considered cancer targets. It is the first inhibitor of this kind to enter clinical trials. 

Bertrand Damour the chief executive at OncoEthix says: “We are confident that our transaction with Merck best positions OTX015 to be developed to its full potential in areas of high unmet medical need.”

Legal action

Merck further enhanced its oncology portfolio earlier this year when its melanoma treatment, Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was approved by the FDA.

Becoming the first company to bring a new class of cancer drug to the US market, Merck set the new medicine’s cost at $12,500 per month. Keytruda is indicated for patients following treatment with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immuno-oncology drug Yervoy (ipilimumab). 

But Bristol-Myers Squibb on the same day the drug was approved, filed a lawsuit against Merck’s new melanoma offering, citing it was planning to ‘exploit its invention’ of its new immunotherapy drug Opdivo (nivolumab) with Keytruda.

In fact, BMS was then subsequently granted a speedy review for Opdivo by the FDA, and it will be hoping its new data for the vaccine will help shore up defences against Merck’s new treatment.

The competitive race is heating up for the new type of cancer drugs known as a PD-1 inhibitors – which sit within a lucrative market said to be worth $30 billion over the coming years. 

Tom Robinson

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