Fresh off signing a blockbuster deal for hepatitis C drug developer Idenix Pharmaceuticals, Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter said his company won't shy away from buying big into biotech, provided there are promising medicines at stake.
Proof-of-concept data for Idenix's lead hepatitis C nucleotide helped drive a competitive bidding process that included AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson and resulted in the $3.85 billion price tag for the buyout. And Merck may get more than pipeline help from the deal--it could also get a leg up in an ongoing IP battle with HCV leader Gilead Sciences.
Sovaldi's runaway success looms large over Merck's decision to ante up $3.8 billion to buy Idenix Pharmaceuticals, which has three hepatitis C drugs in early stage development. Gilead's hep C drug has given an early peek at just how large the market is and how extensive it will be for years to come, an opportunity Merck hopes to exploit by acquiring more hep C firepower.
Almost a year after it promised to go on a shopping spree for new experimental drugs, Merck has come up with a $3.85 billion cash deal to buy out Idenix, a biotech company best known for its setbacks in hepatitis C drug research.
Idenix Pharmaceuticals believes Gilead Sciences violated its patents with the blockbuster-selling hepatitis C pill Sovaldi, and the biotech has expanded its legal fight into Europe, angling for a cut of sales.
Gilead Sciences' Sovaldi portends to be a megablockbuster by the end of this year--and possibly the biggest-selling drug of all time a few years down the road. So it's no surprise that others are after a piece of the drug--Idenix Pharmaceuticals included.
As Gilead nears a virtually guaranteed FDA approval for the hepatitis C-fighting sofosbuvir, the biotech is facing intellectual property challenges from a bevy of competitors, most recently Idenix Pharmaceuticals, which claims the blockbuster hopeful infringes on its patents.
The FDA has hit the biotech group with a request for more preclinical data on IDX20963, which is Idenix's lead drug in the closely watched class of uridine nucleotide prodrugs, sometimes called "nucs" for short.
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For the past few weeks Idenix has been methodically moving away from its once-promising hepatitis C drugs, put on clinical hold by a jittery FDA in the wake of a catastrophic trial of a somewhat similar drug at Bristol-Myers Squibb.