Merck & Co. bails on NGM eye disease collab in wake of phase 2 fail

Merck & Co. bails on NGM eye disease collab in wake of phase 2 fail

Over a year after Merck & Co. narrowed the scope of its long-standing collaboration with NGM Biopharmaceuticals, the Big Pharma has dropped another raft of candidates in the wake of a phase 2 fail.

Specifically, Merck has lost interest in NGM621, an anti-complement C3 antibody being trialed in patients with an eye degenerative disease called geographic atrophy. The therapy flunked a midstage trial in October, with the biotech referring only to vague hopes that the asset could still go on to play a role in treating the condition.

Merck had retained an option to license NGM621, its related compounds and potentially other preclinical ophthalmology compounds by Jan. 20, 2023. But the company told NGM verbally that it was no longer interested, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The two companies first signed a wide-ranging collaboration back in 2015. In July 2021, the agreement was further narrowed to exclude oncology and instead solely focus on retinal as well as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, primarily in the form of NGM621 and a nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) drug called MK-3655. Both candidates were discovered by NGM under the collaboration.

Those updates to the collaboration, which is due to run through at least March 2024, made Merck eligible to pay out up to $120 million in R&D funding as well as additional payments if Merck had exercised a license option.

Merck already secured the global rights to MK-3655 as far back as 2019. As of last month, the Big Pharma was still enrolling patients in a global phase 2b trial of the therapy for the treatment of non-cirrhotic NASH.

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