NASH drug in hand, Merck forges ahead with 2-year extension of NGM Bio collaboration deal

The past four years of collaborating with NGM Bio has delivered a late-stage NASH drug for Merck, which paid up $20 million to license the drug just weeks ago. A year before the deal is slated to terminate, the pharma giant has decided it wants two more years to see what NGM’s discovery engine could come up with.

Jin-Long Chen

Not all of the compounds will eventually make the cut — in fact Merck is shedding an obesity program that failed to impress in Phase I — but the partners have been able to bond over a “mutual commitment to scientific excellence and the pursuit of novel meaningful therapeutics,” said Joe Miletich, Merck’s SVP of preclinical and early development.

It’s a somewhat unusual deal championed and personally negotiated by Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter, who placed great trust in key NGM players, including founder and CSO Jin-Long Chen.

During the extension period from 2021 to 2022, Merck is committing to infuse an extra $20 million into NGM’s R&D efforts on top of what it’s currently paying — continuing to shoulder much of the development burn so that NGM can focus on finding new biologics.

The deal will remain broad, spanning a range of therapeutic areas. For now, NGM $NGM cites cardio-metabolic and liver diseases, oncology and ophthalmic diseases as its focus areas.

David Woodhouse

After Merck returns the licenses to the growth differentiation factor 15 receptor agonist program, NGM plans to peruse the Phase I data on obesity before deciding what to do with it. Though preliminary results suggest that NGM386 did not induce body weight loss relative to placebo, NGM continues to believe “the biology of GDF15 and its cognate receptor, GFRAL, can play an important role in human disease with potential effects on lipolysis and energy expenditure in metabolic disease states,” CEO David Woodhouse said in a statement.

Merck will have another chance in 2021 to add another two years to the collaboration.

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Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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