Merck to acquire Immune Design for $300M

The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of this year, would bolster Merck’s therapeutic vaccine capabilities, an analyst wrote.

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Merck & Co. has acquired a company developing therapies for cancers, allergies and infectious diseases.

The Kenilworth, New Jersey-based drugmaker said Thursday that it would spend $300 million to acquire Seattle-based Immune Design. Immune Design’s stock was up more than 300 percent on the Nasdaq Thursday, trading at $5.82 per share, compared with its $1.42 Wednesday closing price.

The company’s lead product candidate is G100, an intratumoral TLR4 agonist being developed for follicular lymphoma, an indolent – or slow-growing – subtype of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Its second most advanced product is a vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Both programs are in Phase II development, and the latter is partnered with UK-based AstraZeneca’s MedImmune division. It also has a peanut allergy vaccine in Phase I development that it has partnered with French drugmaker Sanofi.

“Scientists at Immune Design have established a unique portfolio of approaches to cancer immunization and adjuvant systems designed to enhance the ability of a vaccine to protect against infection, which could meaningfully improve vaccine development,” Merck Research Laboratories President Roger Perlmutter said in a statement.

The company has two drug-development platforms, GLAAS and ZVex, which are designed to activate and expand the immune system’s ability to create tumor-specific T cells called cytotoxic T lymphocytes, or CTLs, inside the body.

In a note to investors, SVB Leerink analyst Jonathan Chang wrote that the acquisition would bolster Merck’s vaccine capabilities, noting that a clinical study was already underway evaluating G100 and radiation therapy in combination with Merck’s PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab). It is unlikely that other bidders for Immune Design will emerge, he wrote.

Data from the Phase II study of G100 were presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting in December. Among 26 patients awith previously untreated and relapsed or refractory follicular lymphoma patients, 46 percent of patients receiving the drug and radiation with Keytruda responded to treatment, along with 23 percent of those who did not receive Keytruda. Progression-free survival – meaning the length of time patients survived without their disease worsening, a standard clinical endpoint in follicular lymphoma – was 11.1 months for patients receiving the triplet complication and 7.4 months for those receiving G100 with radiation alone.

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