Merck Licenses Endocyte Drug | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: April 16, 2012

Merck Licenses Endocyte Drug

Pharmaceuticals: Late-stage drug and diagnostic could be useful in treating many cancers
Department: Business
News Channels: Biological SCENE
Keywords: pharmaceuticals, oncology, ovarian cancer

Merck & Co. has agreed to pay Endocyte, a West Lafayette, Ind.-based biotech company developing small-molecule drug conjugates, up to $1 billion for access to the cancer agent vintafolide and a companion diagnostic.

Under the pact, Endocyte gets $120 million up front and up to $880 million in milestone payments if the drug gains approval to treat multiple types of cancer. Endocyte will be responsible for paying for most of a Phase III clinical trial to treat patients with ovarian cancer, but it also keeps half of any profits on U.S. sales of vintafolide. The biotech firm will also cover development and commercialization costs for the companion diagnostic.

Vintafolide is a conjugate that links folate to desacetylvinblastine monohydrazide, a potent vinca alkaloid chemotherapy agent. The drug is designed to get the cancer-killing alkaloid to cancer cells that actively take up folate.

Vintafolide is currently in Phase III trials to treat women with platinum-resistant ovarian cancer and in Phase II trials to treat non-small-cell lung cancer. Endocyte selects the right patients for its trials using the companion diagnostic etarfolatide, a molecular imaging agent that identifies when a tumor overexpresses folate receptors.

“This agreement underscores our strategy of building a portfolio of oncology therapeutics that employ a companion diagnostic to facilitate selection of those patients most likely to respond to treatment,” Peter S. Kim, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said upon announcing the deal.

Cowen & Co. stock analyst Simos Simeonidis was positive about the deal, noting that Merck has the experience to maximize the potential of the drug-diagnostic combination across multiple kinds of cancer. “We also believe that this transaction definitely cracks the door open for an eventual acquisition by Merck, if they like what they see in the next couple of years,” Simeonidis wrote in a note to investors.

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