Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, (NYSE: MRK) and Endocyte Inc. (NASDAQ: ECYT), today announced that they have entered into an agreement to develop and commercialize Endocyte's novel investigational therapeutic candidate vintafolide (EC145). Vintafolide is currently being evaluated in a Phase III clinical trial for platinum-resistant ovarian cancer, (PROCEED trial) and a Phase II trial for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); both studies are also using Endocyte's investigational companion diagnostic agent, etarfolatide (EC20).
“Vintafolide is a promising and innovative late-stage cancer drug candidate. In addition to pursuing the lead indication of platinum-resistant ovarian cancer, Merck plans to further evaluate its potential for treatment of multiple other cancer types”
"Vintafolide is a promising and innovative late-stage cancer drug candidate. In addition to pursuing the lead indication of platinum-resistant ovarian cancer, Merck plans to further evaluate its potential for treatment of multiple other cancer types," said Peter S. Kim, executive vice president and president Merck Research Laboratories. "This agreement underscores our strategy of building a portfolio of oncology therapeutics that employ a companion diagnostic to facilitate selection of those patients most likely to respond to treatment."
Under the agreement, Merck, through a subsidiary, will gain worldwide rights to develop and commercialize vintafolide. Endocyte will receive a $120 million upfront payment and is eligible for milestone payments of up to $880 million based on the successful achievement of development, regulatory and commercialization goals for vintafolide for a total of six cancer indications. In addition, if vintafolide receives regulatory approval, Endocyte will receive an equal share of the profit in the United States (U.S.) as well as a double digit percentage royalty on sales of the product in the rest of the world. Endocyte has retained the right to co-promote vintafolide with Merck in the U.S. and Merck has the exclusive right to promote vintafolide in the rest of world. Endocyte will be responsible for the majority of funding and completion of the PROCEED trial. Merck will be responsible for all other development activities and costs and have all decision rights for vintafolide. Endocyte remains responsible for the development, manufacture and commercialization worldwide of etarfolatide, a non-invasive companion diagnostic imaging agent that is used to identify folate receptor positive tumor cells.
"Following a rigorous selection process we believe Merck represents the ideal strategic partner to achieve the full potential of vintafolide, accelerating our development in numerous cancers," said Ron Ellis, Endocyte's president and chief executive officer. "The agreement also positions us well to build our own commercial infrastructure for vintafolide in the U.S. and for etarfolatide worldwide."
Endocyte has completed three single arm studies of vintafolide in patients with advanced platinum resistant ovarian cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and solid tumors. In a randomized Phase II clinical trial (PRECEDENT) comparing vintafolide plus pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (PLD) versus PLD alone in women with platinum-resistant ovarian cancer, vintafolide demonstrated a statistically significant delay in disease progression or death in the overall population, with the largest improvement observed in patients with all tumors imaged as positive for folate receptor expression utilizing etarfolatide. Vintafolide in combination showed limited additional toxicity versus standard therapy with PLD alone. Common adverse events observed with this combination were neutropenia, fatigue, mouth sores, and redness/swelling/pain on the hands and feet.
In March 2012, Endocyte announced that the European Union had granted orphan drug status to vintafolide, and that the company planned to file a marketing authorization application in the third quarter of 2012.
Closing of the transaction is contingent upon obtaining Hart-Scott Rodino clearance from the Federal Trade Commission.