Right on the heels of a PhIII failure, Merck neuroscience doubles down with a new drug targeting tau

Darryle Schoepp

Merck isn’t letting its first big Phase III failure in Alzheimer’s get in the way of its ambitions in the field. The pharma giant just grabbed worldwide rights to a preclinical tau-targeted antibody, lining up a parallel shot at a prime suspect in the development of the memory-wasting ailment.

Merck $MRK struck its deal with Japan’s Teijin Pharma, including an upfront and milestones which it didn’t disclose (and rarely does). Now its neuroscience R&D group will take over development, reserving a royalty split if this one ever makes it to the market.

Merck has the most advanced BACE drug – verubecestat, which moves upstream to halt development of amyloid beta – in development. Back in February Merck shuttered its EPOCH trial for verubecestat in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s after the external data monitoring committee concluded that the drug was a bust, with “virtually” no chance of success. But the pharma giant is continuing its work on the drug with a separate Phase III in very early stage prodromal patients.

While toxic clusters of amyloid beta in the brain have long been considered the most likely cause of the disease, there has been growing attention for tau as well. That in turn has helped generate a growing consensus that any company that wants to make an impact on the disease, after 15 long years of clinical failure, will need to come up with cocktail therapies that cover a variety of targets. The tau-abeta combo is the first step in that direction, though there’s no real certainty yet on exactly which mechanisms should be targeted.

“Teijin Pharma scientists have made important progress to advance this investigational anti-tau antibody to this stage of development,” said Darryle Schoepp, vice president, neuroscience discovery, Merck Research Laboratories. “Merck remains committed to developing meaningful therapeutic options for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.”

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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