Merck announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement with clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, OncoImmune, focused on developing novel biopharmaceuticals to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases. This acquisition comes shortly after OncoImmune announced the Phase 3 interim analysis results of its lead candidate, CD24Fc, for treating severe and critical COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen support. The phase 3 interim analysis consisted of 203 participants, 75% of the planned enrollment, with severe or critical COVID-19. On treatment with a single dose of CD24Fc, the probability of improvement in clinical status increased by 60% compared to the placebo. The risk of respiratory failure and death decreased by 50%.
CD24Fc has potential applications to several autoimmune diseases and has completed a Phase II clinical trial for the prophylactic treatment of acute Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD) for leukemia patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. A pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial (NCT04095858) for prophylaxis of GVHD has been initiated.
Through its subsidiary, Merck will acquire all OncoImmune’s outstanding shares worth USD 425 million in an upfront payment. Before closing the acquisition, OncoImmune plans to spin-out certain rights and assets, not concerning the CD24Fc program, to a new entity held by its existing shareholders. Merck will become a minority shareholder in the new entity with an investment of USD 50 million. The acquisition is expected to close before the end of 2020 and is subject to approval under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act.
This acquisition is one of many Merck’s initiatives towards developing strong and diverse therapies for COVID-19. Prior to this, Merck collaborated with IRBM to develop investigational peptides against COVID-19. Merck, in June 2020, also completed the acquisition of Themis for accelerating its program for the development of a measles-vector-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Merck is also part of Bill and Melinda foundation’s COVID-19 consortium and has collaborated with many other organizations working towards a solution for managing the pandemic, and these deals reassert Merck’s dedication towards developing treatments for COVID-19.