Merck & Co to buy cancer biotech Peloton for $2.2bn

Merck & Co is to buy the privately-held biotech Peloton for up to $2.2 billion, adding further oncology drugs to its pipeline as it searches for successors to cancer blockbuster Keytruda.

Keytruda is patent protected in the US and Europe until 2028, and although sales are still growing, the big US pharma wants to keep ahead of the game in the ever-changing world of cancer care.

This is where Peloton comes in, with its PT2977, the most clinically advanced in a suite of small molecules that the biotech has developed to target hypoxia-inducible factor-2a (HIF-2a).

HIF-2a is involved in the creation of blood vessels that feed tumours and regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a gene that is involved in the creation of these blood vessels.

In cancer HIF-2a is over-activated because of the inactivity of a von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumour suppressor.

Inactivation of VHL is observed in over 90% of clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC), the most common form of kidney cancer, which is the tumour that Peloton has focused on as a first target.

PT2977 is in late-stage development for renal cell carcinoma and is being tested in a phase 2 clinical trial in VHL-associated RCC.

It is also in development in combination with Exelixis/Ipsen’s VEGFR-targeting agent Cometriq (cabozantinib) in metastatic RCC.

It is also in early to mid-stage development for glioblasta multiforme.

Results from a phase 1/2 study of PT2977 demonstrated favourable safety and early signs of anti-tumour activity as a monotherapy in RCC, Merck & Co noted.

Merck, through a subsidiary, will acquire all outstanding shares of Peloton in exchange for an upfront payment of $1.05 billion in cash.

Peloton shareholders will be eligible to receive a further $1.15 billion contingent upon successful achievement of future regulatory and sales milestones for certain drugs from its pipeline.

Subject to review by US antitrust regulators, the company expects the transaction to close in the third quarter of this year.

Roger Perlmutter

Dr Roger Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories, said: “Peloton scientists have applied their unique expertise in HIF-2α biology to develop PT2977, which has already shown intriguing activity in the treatment of renal cell carcinoma.

“We look forward to advancing this late-stage asset as part of our broad oncology R&D programme.”

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