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Merck ends Alzheimer’s deal, partners with Exelixis

Terminates agreement with Acumen and switches focus to R&D programme for inflammation and oncology

Merck & Co has terminated an agreement with Acumen to develop treatments for Alzheimer's disease the same day it announced it has bought the licence to an R&D programme from Exelixis.

US biotech Acumen said Merck abandoned the Alzheimer's agreement due to 'internal strategic priorities'.

The deal, originally agreed in 2003, was to develop and commercialise anti-ADDL antibody therapeutics.

Recent pre-clinical development of compounds had seen failures of a gamma secretase inhibitor, however, and little success had been seen in the efficacy of non-selective amyloid beta immunotherapies, according to Dr Franz Hefti, Acumen's newly announced president and CEO.

Despite Merck's decision to pull out of the deal, Hefti was still positive about the programme's potential.

He said: "Our Merck colleagues successfully advanced anti-ADDL antibody therapeutics to a late pre-clinical development stage based on antibodies that we believe will allow Acumen to develop a best in class, disease modifying therapy for Alzheimer's disease."

Separately, Merck is to enter a deal with Exelixis to gain exclusive worldwide licence to its PI3K-delta R&D programme.

Exelixis, another US biotech, will receive an upfront payment of $12m from Merck and will be eligible for potential development and regulatory milestone payments of up to $239m. Sales milestones are also available.

The programme covers several therapeutic areas, including inflammation and oncology.

Products in development as part of the programme include PI3K-delta inhibitor XL499.

The compounds aims to control the PI3K-delta kinase, overactivation of which is thought to lead to multiple inflammatory and allergic disorders, and certain forms of lymphona.

Dr Don Nicholson, vice president and head of Worldwide Discovery, Respiratory and Immunology Franchise, Merck Research Laboratories, said: “Exelixis has established a strong reputation for innovation in the development of targeted kinase inhibitors.

“Collaborations like this are an important part of our strategy as we seek new ways to address unmet needs in inflammatory disease and oncology.”

22nd December 2011

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