By Dave Sebastian
Merck & Co. is buying the biopharmaceutical company OncoImmune, which has reported positive results from a late-stage study of a coronavirus therapeutic candidate, for $425 million in cash.
The acquisition is the big drugmaker's latest in its catch-up in the most important vaccine and treatment chase in modern history. Earlier Monday, AstraZeneca PLC and the University of Oxford said their Covid-19 vaccine was as much as 90% effective in preventing infections without serious side effects in large clinical trials, and a shot created by Moderna Inc. and one jointly made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE were found to be more than 90% effective in their own late-stage trials.
Under the deal, expected to close by the end of the year, OncoImmune shareholders would be eligible for milestone- and sales-based payments, the companies said Monday. OncoImmune will also spin off an entity involving certain rights and assets unrelated to the Covid-19 treatment to a new entity owned by existing shareholders before the acquisition, with Merck investing $50 million and becoming a minority shareholder in it, the companies added.
Patients with severe or critical Covid-19 who were treated with a single dose of OncoImmune's therapeutic candidate, known as CD24Fc, had a 60% higher probability of improvement than those treated with the placebo, OncoImmune said of its interim analysis of data from 203 participants, or 75% of the planned enrollment in its phase 3 clinical trial. The dose reduced the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50%, the Rockville, Md., company added.
Merck, based in Kenilworth, N.J., is a longtime maker of vaccines and antivirals, including human papillomavirus shot Gardasil. The company in September said it had begun testing one of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine candidates in healthy volunteers. It laid out a Covid-19 vaccine program in late May, at a time when several rivals had developed vaccines and begun testing them on healthy volunteers.
For the vaccine, Merck in May said it was acquiring privately held Austrian company Themis Bioscience. The vaccine was developed by the French research nonprofit Institut Pasteur and licensed to Themis. Merck's other coronavirus vaccine effort takes the form of a partnership with the scientific-research organization IAVI, whose experimental vaccine uses the same technology that is the basis for Merck's Ebola Zaire virus vaccine.
Health authorities have eyed vaccines as the antidote needed for the world to begin returning to normal. They are crucial to ensure that enough people are protected against the virus so it can't spread easily, even to those who aren't immune. Some 200 Covid-19 vaccines are in development around the world, according to the World Health Organization, each one promising to protect people from the deadly coronavirus and allow them to go back to work and school. Nearly 50 candidates, based on different technologies, are in clinical trials.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires