After canning clinical pipeline, Merrimack CEO, CFO abandon ship

Red Exit sign
Merrimack recruited Richard Peters from Sanofi Genzyme in 2017 to lead the company through its rebirth as a clinical-stage R&D biotech. (Leeroy Agency)

To say that Merrimack has had a rough year would be an understatement. Two months after safety issues put an end to its clinical-stage pipeline, the company’s CEO, chief financial officer and president are bidding it adieu. Dr. Richard Peters, Jean Franchi and Gary Crocker resigned last Friday, Merrimack said in an SEC filing. 

Merrimack recruited Richard Peters from Sanofi Genzyme in 2017 to lead the company through its rebirth as a clinical-stage R&D biotech. His appointment came after Merrimack lost its previous CEO, Robert Mulroy, in a 2016 restructuring move that also axed 22% of its 426-strong staff. Aimed at conserving cash, the reorg was designed to throw the company’s resources behind “programs that have the greatest potential for disruptive change in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer," said Dr. Yasir Al-Wakeel, then the chief financial officer. 

This did not include Merrimack’s pancreatic cancer med Onivyde, which had scored the FDA nod a year earlier. As the company searched for a new CEO, Crocker steered the Cambridge, MA-based biotech, striking a deal to offload Onivyde to Ipsen and slashing Merrimack’s workforce once again. 

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When Peters arrived, he found a very different company than Mulroy left three months earlier. The slimmed-down organization—with a headcount of 72—was now focused on pushing three anticancer candidates through the clinic. 

RELATED: Merrimack 0 for 3 as it dumps cancer drug over safety fears, axes staffers (again) 

They failed, one by one. 

The first to fall was MM-141, a bispecific antibody for pancreatic cancer. In a midphase study, the drug missed its primary and secondary endpoints, failing to beat placebo at staving off cancer. With MM-141 performing badly in all patient subgroups, Merrimack decided to can the program in June last year. 

Then, in November, the company pulled the plug on its lead program, MM-121, an anti-HER3 antibody. The drug failed in non-small cell lung cancer, prompting Merrimack to pull the plug on a phase 2 study testing it in metastatic breast cancer as well. That left the company with one clinical-stage program and two preclinical assets; it also cut 60% of its staff in another restructuring move. 

In April this year, Merrimack kissed its last clinical program goodbye thanks to safety issues with MM-310, an antibody-directed nanotherapeutic in phase 1 for solid tumors. Three patients taking the drug developed peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage, typically in the hands and feet. Though the biotech tried tweaking the dose and changing who would be allowed into the trial, the issue persisted, leading it to ax the program and restructuring—again. 

Merrimack now has just two preclinical assets: MM-401, an agonistic antibody targeting TNFR2, and MM-201, an agonist-Fc fusion protein targeting death receptors 4 and 5.

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