Merck buys out IOmet, adding new immuno-oncology tech

Merck's Dr. Eric Rubin

Merck has snagged Edinburgh-based IOmet for an undisclosed sum, adding a preclinical pipeline of therapies that target the IDO/TDO pathways that may help spur an immune system attack on cancer.

A leader in the checkpoint inhibition field with the pioneering Keytruda, Merck ($MRK) is gaining access to technology that promises to target enzymes that are often overexpressed in cancers, leading to tryptophan depletion and high tumor levels of the breakdown product, kynurenine, an imbalance that tamps down the immune response.

As a result, IDO/TDO are two pathways that have attracted considerable attention from pharma companies zeroing in on immunotherapy. Roche struck a deal with India's Curadev last April, paying $25 million up front and offering $530 million in milestones for access to its IDO/TDO work. Roche ($RHHBY) is considered just one step behind Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) with the PD-L1 checkpoint program for atezolizumab.

Incyte ($INCY) has already paired with Merck's Keytruda--and other checkpoints--on its IDO1 drug epacadostat (INCB24360).

"The acquisition of IOmet is a further example of Merck's commitment to fully realizing the potential of this rapidly evolving field through our existing innovative portfolio as well as the acquisition of promising immunotherapeutic candidates," said Dr. Eric Rubin, vice president and therapeutic area head of oncology early-stage development at Merck Research Laboratories.

- here's the release