Pfizer-Merck cancer deal reduces likelihood of AZ merger

Pfizer has announced an agreement with Merck to co-develop a novel anti-PD-L1 antibody for various cancers.

Merck will receive an initial payment of $850 million, with further payments of up to $2 billion subject to regulatory and commercial milestones being met.

The candidate, Merck’s MSB0010718C, will be tested as a single agent and in combination with the companies’ broad portfolio of oncology therapies.

The transaction represents the “largest deal in the industry for a single asset in this stage of development,” according to Belén Garijo, chief executive of Merck’s pharmaceutical division. The high price for such an early-stage asset reflects the strong competition among firms wanting to do a deal, she explained.

The exclusive agreement means neither company can collaborate with other companies in the PD-L1 or PD-1 space unless they mutually agree, which reduces the likelihood of Pfizer making a renewed bid for AstraZeneca (AZ), with its rival anti-PD-L1 product MED14736 in development.

Merck’s drug is also some way behind others being advanced in the field by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche and US-based Merck & Co, so having the punching power of Pfizer behind it is a shrewd move for the German drugmaker.

The deal builds on an ongoing phase I programme that has treated more than 550 patients across various cancers, and Pfizer and Merck are set to commence up to 20 high priority immuno-oncology clinical development programmes in 2015. The companies will jointly fund all development and commercialisation costs and share equally all revenues obtained from selling any anti-PD-L1 or anti-PD-1 products.

Albert Bourla, group president Vaccines, Oncology and Consumer Healthcare Businesses, Pfizer, stated, “Immuno-oncology is a top priority for Pfizer. Combining this promising anti-PD-L1 antibody with Pfizer’s extensive portfolio of small molecules and antibodies provides an opportunity to potentially broaden the use of immunotherapy for patients with cancer and rapidly expand our oncology business. In addition, this alliance enables us to significantly accelerate the timeframe of our development programmes and move into the first wave of potential immuno-oncology based treatment regimens.”

Interim data from the phase I study demonstrated a complete response and partial responses in patients with non-small cell lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

Separate from the PD-L1 programmes, Pfizer and Merck will advance Pfizer’s anti-PD-1 antibody into phase I trials and will co-promote Pfizer’s kinase inhibitor Xalkori for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in the US and other key markets.

Pfizer is actively exploring a range of novel oncology agents, including checkpoint modulating antibodies, CAR-T therapies, bi-functional monoclonal antibodies and vaccine-based immunotherapy regimens.


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