News Feature | December 23, 2014

Merck Acquires OncoEthix, Cancer Drug Lead

By Estel Grace Masangkay

Merck announced that it has acquired Swiss-based oncology firm OncoEthix through a subsidiary. The acquisition gives Merck access to an investigational drug in development for the treatment of blood malignancies and late-stage solid tumors.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will pay an upfront fee of up to $110 million to OncoEthix. The company is also eligible for additional milestone payments reaching up to $265 million from Merck upon achievement of certain clinical and regulatory goals. No further financial terms of the agreement were disclosed by either company.

Dr. Roy Baynes, SVP of global clinical development at Merck Research Laboratories, said that oncology remains as a top priority for the company. “The acquisition of OncoEthix supports our strategy to prioritize the development of innovative molecules with the potential to improve the treatment of advanced cancers. 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 program.”

OTX015 is an oral BET (bromodomain) inhibitor candidate undergoing Phase 1B trials for hematological malignancies, in which the drug showed significant clinical activity. The drug is also being evaluated in an international, open label Phase 1 study in five different types of solid tumors. OTX015 targets BET proteins, which play a key role in regulating the transcription of key regulators in abnormal cancer cells’ growth and survival.

Bertrand Damour, CEO of OncoEthix, said, “We are delighted that OTX015 will now be in the hands of Merck… The acquisition underlines the promise that OTX015 has shown in the treatment of hematological malignancies and the potential it has for the treatment of advanced solid tumors. 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.”

Merck recently made headlines with its acquisition of Cubist Pharmaceuticals for $8.4 billion. Cubist’s antibiotic Cubicin was central to the huge buyout given its potential for fighting antibiotic-resistant superbugs.