- Merck & Co has exercised its option to extend for an additional two years a five-year deal inked with NGM Biopharmaceuticals back in 2015, taking the collaboration through to March 2022. Merck has another two-year option remaining, exercisable in 2021.
- For the two-year extension period, Merck said it will continuing financing NGM's R&D at "similar levels to the original collaboration terms," as well as pump an additional $20 million that would have been used on an extension fee into the biotech's R&D efforts.
- The original deal had Merck paying $200 million upfront, including a 15% equity stake in NGM valued at $106 million.
Merck has already advanced one drug candidates from the NGM collaboration.
In January, the pharma licensed a monoclonal antibody now called MK-3655 in exchange for $20 million. A Merck executive said at the time that the drug could have "a meaningful impact" on metabolic disorders.
MK-3655 has already completed a Phase 1b proof-of-concept study, and Merck is planning a Phase 2b trial to evaluate its effect on liver histology and glucose control in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) patients with or without diabetes.
Yet the good news for NGM comes with some qualification. Merck also announced Wednesday that it will terminate a license to NGM’s growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) receptor agonist program, which is in development for treating obesity.
Under the terms of the companies' original collaboration, Merck received an exclusive, global license to NGM's GDF15 analogs, including potential candidates NGM386 and NGM395. However, a Phase 1 trial of NGM386 in healthy but overweight or obese adults showed no significant weight loss versus placebo, apparently spurring Merck to cut ties on that research.
Once the GDF15 programs are back in NGM's hands, the biotech intends to analyze the clinical data generated by Merck before making a decision about whether to continue development of the two candidates on its own.