Merck KGaA snatches up Geneva biotech as repurposed chemotherapy mission strikes a 'Chord'
About a year after Geneva-based Chord Therapeutics emerged from stealth to see if it could repurpose an old chemotherapy agent for rare diseases, Merck KGaA is swooping in with a buyout.
While the companies are keeping mum about the financial terms of the deal, Merck KGaA is adding Chord’s lead candidate to its neurology pipeline — a small molecule oral version of the chemotherapy drug cladribine dubbed CRD1.
Upon announcing the news on Monday morning, the company’s stock $MKKGY was up about 1.74%.
This wouldn’t be the first time researchers at the German pharma company have worked with cladribine. Back in 2019, Merck KGaA (known as the EMD group in the US and Canada) got its own cladribine tablets approved by the FDA for multiple sclerosis. While cladribine (which has been around since the 1990s) is normally used to treat certain types of leukemia, Merck KGaA’s Mavenclad showed a 58% relative reduction in annualized relapse rate in MS patients compared to placebo (p<0.001).
Since launching with $16 million from Omega Funds last October, Chord’s been looking to build programs around “well-understood active substances with a history of clinical testing and use in human patients.”
For the last 14 months, the biotech’s been working on turning CRD1 into treatments for a neuromuscular condition called generalized myasthenia gravis, and an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system called neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).
“We often hear, ‘What do you want with these old drugs? You know, isn’t there something better, something modern?’” Chord CEO Tom Plitz told Endpoints News. “(Cladribine) is not one of these chemotherapeutics that kind of kills everything which comes along. It’s very specific for lymphocytes and this is linked to the mode of action.”
The drug works by reducing the number of B and T lymphocytes in the body, and Chord has already established early proof-of-concept in both indications, according to Plitz. While he declined to give too much away on potential timelines going forth, he said it’s Chord’s expectation that another proof-of-concept study won’t be necessary, and that researchers will be able to dive right into registrational studies.
“It’s not all about all new and … first in class, first on target, first ever. There’s a lot of merits on building on known strength and I think that was something obviously Omega picked up on,” Plitz said. “We still hope that obviously now, what we have built on will be successfully continued with Merck.”