Pharma, R&D

Merck goes all-in on a late-stage NASH drug from NGM as development race heats up

After betting $450 million in cash on NGM’s R&D capabilities, Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter is adding another $20 million ante to pick up rights for a prize NASH drug that will now go into its late-stage pipeline.

Roger Perlmutter

The object of Perlmutter’s attention is NGM313, an antibody agonist of the β-Klotho/FGFR1c receptor complex. This drug was at the heart of Merck’s $MRK 2015 deal to bankroll NGM’s R&D operations for 5 years, with Perlmutter’s personal endorsement that the company was a standout.

The deal follows close on the heels of Phase Ib data that illustrated the drug’s ability to reduce liver fat content, a prime biomarker that is often highlighted in early-stage explorative work. Merck now plans to launch a Phase IIb, ready to advance more cash if it pushes into a pivotal Phase III study as it looks to position itself against leaders like Intercept and Gilead.

What’s the rush?

CNBC just highlighted the epidemic of NASH in the US and around the world, where affluence has fueled fatty liver diseases.

“By 2020 NASH will overtake hepatitis C as the No. 1 cause of liver transplantation in the U.S.,” Mayo Clinic researcher Maria Yataco told CNBC.

Merck wants to be part of that solution. But it’s coming up from behind.

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