Merck bags a PhIII CMV victory in the wake of a flop at rival Chimerix

Roy Baynes, Merck

Roy Baynes, Merck

Four years after bagging the late-stage drug letermovir in a $571 million deal, Merck says the drug has come through in a lengthy Phase III study for preventing CMV infection in high-risk allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients.

Merck $MRK bagged letermovir back in 2012, when Roger Pomerantz was head of the pharma giant’s infectious disease group, paying Bayer spinoff AiCuris $142 million upfront and promising $429 million more in milestones.

Pomerantz has since gone on to make the leap into biotech as CEO of Seres. And it was left to Merck SVP of clinical development Roy Baynes to take the bow for letermovir, a non-nucleoside CMV inhibitor designed to block viral replication.

“Merck is pleased this pivotal Phase 3 study with letermovir met its primary endpoint,” Baynes said in a statement.

There was no data included in the statement from Merck, which will hold the results back for some future scientific conference.

The late-stage success follows a setback on the same front for rival Chimerix $CMRX, which was forced to concede at the end of last year that its Phase III for CMV flopped, blasting its share price.

Merck has been reserving much of its firepower for an ambitious effort to advance its PD-1 checkpoint drug Keytruda through a range of studies in cancer. R&D chief Roger Perlmutter seized on Keytruda when he was handed the job to turn around the research arm of the pharma giant. The rest of the late-stage pipeline tends to be a bit neglected at this stage.

AiCuris, meanwhile, continues to make progress with the backing of the billionaire Strungmann brothers, who have become keen biotech investors in Germany.

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