Merck acquires OncoImmune to ramp supply of promising Covid drug

Pharmaceutical giant Merck said it plans to acquire privately held Oncoimmune for $ 425 million in cash, an under-radar drug possession that strikes patients hospitalized with Kovid-19 Shows the result.

The drug, referred to as CD24FC, was shown in a late-September clinical study in patients hospitalized with Kovid-19 and reducing the risk of respiratory death or oxygen need by more than 50%. “Merck said on Monday.”

The drug was given as an intravenous infusion in addition to standard care, which may include Remedisvir and Dexamethasone, and was compared to standard-of-care alone. The data, in 203 patients, also showed that patients receiving CD24Fc were 60% more likely to see improvement in clinical condition.

“The results are remarkable,” Merck’s research head, Drs. Roger Perlmutter said in a telephone interview.

With an average of about 170,000 per day Kovid-19 in the US and a record number of people hospitalized with the disease, a drug that can accelerate recovery and reduce the risk of death or patients so severely The sick that they need ventilators can make a big difference in epidemics.

But there is a problem: supply.

“We felt that this small company was not in a position to manufacture CD24 FC and to treat all those who could potentially benefit from this drug,” said Perlameter. “We decided that the only way, seriously, that it could be brought to those who needed it was to bow to our abilities.”

Merck plans to relocate some of its manufacturing capacity to manufacture the drug. But it is a complex drug to manufacture and will take time; Perlmutter said he is aiming for “enough supply ahead of the middle of next year, and ideally far ahead of him”.

Oncoimmune, founded and helpless by Yang Liu, director of the Division of Immunotherapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, reported the top-line results from the test on its website in September. They have not yet been published in a peer-review journal; Merck says that detailed results are coming out.

Although he attracted little attention from the world, the one person to notice was Monsep Saloi, the chief advisor to US government Operation Tana Speed. He mentioned in a telephone interview on 1 November that the data for Oncoimmune’s drug are “simply unreliable,” a “relative mortality effect” that is very clear. “

Saloi explained that the drug “prevents the immune system from becoming hyper-active.” This is the only reason the steroid dexamethasone proved so effective in a trial in June that patients were treated in the more severe stages of Kovid-19; When patients become ill, it may be their own immune system that no longer causes viruses, but causes problems.

“In fact, no one believed it would have such an effect,” said Perlmutter, when asked why the results of the CD24Fc attracted so little attention. “If you look at other anti-inflammatory drugs that have been studied in very ill Kovid-19 patients, it is difficult to show that it has no effect.”

In addition to its ability to help with the epidemic, Merck acquired Oncoimmune as it sees possibilities for CD24Fc beyond the Kovid-19. This graph has shown promise for host versus disease, a dangerous immune response that can occur after bone marrow transplantation, and Perlmutter said it may have further applications.

The $ 425 million deal comes with the ability to make additional payments based on certain regulatory milestones. But Merck only acquires CD24Fc; OncoImmune will spin off other rights and assets in a new company, with Merck investing $ 50 million.

Perlmutter said the company does not plan to seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration unless people actually have an adequate supply of the drug to use it. This is now the task ahead of Merck – who is developing a pill for Kovid-19 as well as two vaccines for the disease.

“Now that we have this terrible, terrible surge in Kovid-19 cases, and so many people hospitalized in serious or critical condition, and so many people in the ICU, thousands of people, or possibly hundreds of thousands or more in the United States “The states may need this medicine,” Perlmutter said. “We’re going to move heaven and earth to produce the material.”

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