Merck scoops up a PhII J&J discard in a bargain-basement deal. And this time they’re shooting at NASH
When J&J turned to South Korea’s Hanmi for a GLP-1/glucagon dual receptor agonist obesity drug, the pharma giant paid $105 million in a cash upfront for the licensing rights and plotted a big clinical trial program to test it. A year ago, like a few of Hanmi’s big partners, J&J reviewed their trial data and walked away, handing it back.
Now Merck is stepping up to grab it for their NASH pipeline — and they got it a lot cheaper than J&J.
Merck has now in-licensed HM12525A for $10 million upfront. The back end is big, though, with $860 million in milestones for a drug now dubbed efinopegdutide.
And that Phase II data that J&J paid for? In Merck’s view, it points to a potential goldmine in a field that has deeply frustrated a long lineup of biotech players.
“Data from Phase II studies has provided compelling clinical evidence that warrants further evaluation of efinopegdutide for the treatment of NASH,” said Sam Engel, associate vice president, Merck clinical research, diabetes and endocrinology, Merck Research Laboratories. He went on to note that this drug fits well into their metabolics pipeline.
According to Hanmi, J&J got the data it was looking for on weight loss in Phase II, but was deterred by the blood glucose response among obese diabetics.
Merck doesn’t splash a lot of money around on experimental drugs, and it has a pipeline still heavily dominated by oncology therapeutics. So this qualifies as a low-budget opportunity to break new ground and diversify R&D.
Hanmi retains commercial rights to the drug in Korea, with Merck gaining the rest of the world.