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Merck, Vertex to Collaborate on Cancer Drug

by Michael McCoy
June 28, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 26

Continuing its push into cancer therapeutics, Merck will collaborate with Vertex Pharmaceuticals to develop a Vertex small-molecule drug.

The drug, known as VX-680, is an Aurora kinase inhibitor expected to enter Phase I clinical development later this year for the treatment of cancer. Aurora kinases are a family of serine-threonine kinases believed to play multiple roles in the development and progression of cancer.

Merck will pay Vertex $20 million up front and an additional $14 million in R&D funding over the next two years. Vertex could eventually receive as much as $350 million in milestone payments, depending on the success of the drug.

The deal is another signal of Merck' renewed interest in cancer therapy, after many years as a minor player in the sector. In February, the company acquired Aton Pharma, a small biotech company that is developing a treatment for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

The collaboration is also emblematic of Merck's more aggressive use of alliances to develop its drug pipeline, which was hit by two Phase III trial failures in 2003. Other recent Merck deals include an agreement to develop a Bristol-Myers Squibb diabetes treatment and February's alliance with Lundbeck to develop a sleep-disorder drug.

For its part, Vertex has been concentrating on antiviral and anti-inflammation products. CEO Joshua Boger says the Merck deal advances a goal of using collaborations to capture more value from Vertex research.


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