Merck & Co.
) enhanced its oncology pipeline with the $605 million acquisition of privately-held Israeli biotech company cCam Biotherapeutics
, which is focused on the development of cancer immunotherapies.
With the acquisition of the five-year-old cCam, Merck will add that company’s lead product CM-24, a monoclonal antibody (mAb) that targets CEACAM1, a “checkpoint” protein that is being evaluated in a Phase I study for the treatment of advanced or recurrent malignancies, including melanoma, non-small-cell lung, bladder, gastric, colorectal, and ovarian cancers. The drug began its Phase I trial in April. Primary objectives in the Phase I trial include assessing the safety, efficacy and tolerability of CM-24 and to determine the recommended dose for Phase II trials. The trial is conducted at four sites in the US and Israel, and is composed of a dose escalation stage and an expansion stage. Immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs have shown promising results in treating multiple advanced cancers including melanoma and non-small-cell lung carcinoma.
Merck is certainly hoping CM-24 will show the same promise as Keytruda, which has been shown effective in treating three kinds of cancers — melanoma, lung cancer and mesothelioma. In April, Merck said it will file for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease has worsened despite previous treatment.
Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab, is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between the protein PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. By binding to the PD-1 receptor and blocking the interaction with the receptor ligands, Keytruda releases the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response, including the anti-tumor immune response, the company said. PD-1 inhibitors are seen as one of the best opportunities in treating lung cancers.
Roger M. Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories, said the company’s acquisition of cCam is in line with Merck’s objective to “advance the care of patients with cancer by stimulating tumor-directed immune responses.”
Under terms of the agreement, Merck will provide cCam with $95 million in an upfront cash payment and the additional $510 million will be paid to shareholders as certain clinical development, regulatory and commercial milestones are met. The Israeli company, was originally established under the Israeli Office of Chief Scientist’s incubators program, will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Merck upon completion of the deal.
The deal with cCam comes after Merck announced an 11 percent drop in revenue, about $9.8 billion, for the second quarter, primarily driven by a drop in sales of Remicade as the drug faces competition from biosimilars. Merck’s earnings per share were higher than forecasted though, coming in at .86 cents per share, 5 cents above predictions. Merck’s stock was up slightly this morning, trading at $57.86 per share, up from the opening price of $57.69 per share.
Earlier this month, Merck made an additional move to shore up its oncology pipeline by expanding a collaboration with Belgian pharmaceutical company Ablynx to develop five pre-defined Nanobody candidates that are directed at immune checkpoint modulator targets for evaluation as immunotherapies for cancer.