- Hungry for more oncology deals, Germany's Merck KGaA on Wednesday took five cancer drugs off the hands of cystic fibrosis-focused Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
- Merck KGaA will anti up $230 million for Vertex's clinical and preclinical stage programs. The former includes three compounds VX-803, VX-970 and VX-984, which work to suppress DNA repair in tumors, though by different modes, while the latter encompasses two candidates that are being investigated in combination with checkpoint inhibitors.
- Though announced as a licensing deal, the agreement provides Merck KGaA sole, global manufacturing and marketing rights for the programs, with the only thing keeping Vertex tied to them are potential sales royalties.
Vertex gave prudent 2017 guidance for its lead cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference earlier this week, with estimates putting yearly sales of the drug between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion. The move likely didn't rev up investor optimism, which sunk in September when the company lowered 2016 guidance for Okambi from $1.1 billion to as low as $950 million.
Orkambi garnered about $978 million in revenue last year, according to Vertex's most recent quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission and recently released financials.
While the company said it plans to increase sales of the drug by strengthening its footing in Europe and targeting younger patient populations, having extra cash could help it pursue more commercialization research efforts for its cystic fibrosis products.
"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," Belen Garijo, executive board member at Merck KGaA, said in a Jan. 11 statement.
Merck KGaA's participation in the deal is more straightforward, as it has been active in boosting its presence in oncology throughout 2016. Recently, the company teamed up with Pfizer and French biopharma Transgene to develop a combination vaccine for human papillomavirus-positive head and neck cancer.