Amgen kills off CETP inhibitor after seeing Merck data

Amgen put AMG 899 in limbo last year pending the readout on Merck's rival drug.

Amgen has scrapped development of the CETP inhibitor it acquired in its $1.55 billion takeover of Dezima. The move sees AMG 899 join CETP inhibitors from Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer on the scrap heap and marks the end of leading companies’ involvement with the once-hyped drug class.

Thousand Oaks, California-based Amgen signaled the program was circling the drain in July 2016 when EVP Sean Harper said investment in AMG 899 was suspended pending data on Merck’s rival CETP drug. Since then, Merck has posted data linking its CETP to a slight, but statistically significant, improvement that ultimately fell short of the level it needed to justify filing for approval.

Given Amgen’s earlier comment and the timing of the news, the Merck data look like the catalyst for the demise of AMG 899. 

The canning of AMG 899 triggered noncash charges big enough to more than wipe out savings Amgen made through its cost-cutting agenda in the third quarter. Acquisition-related adjustments for the quarter came to $287 million, a figure Amgen said is primarily linked to AMG 899. Amgen is looking to outlicense the drug but is unlikely to recoup a fraction of what it paid for Dezima. 

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The big biotech turned heads in 2015 by paying $300 million upfront to land a drug in the already tarnished CETP class. Back then, Pfizer and Roche’s blow up had already dampened expectations for CETP inhibitors. One month after the Amgen-Dezima deal, Eli Lilly stopped its CETP phase 3 after a failed futility review.

In the brief window between acquiring the asset and seeing Lilly flame out, Amgen talked up the prospect of building a cardiovascular portfolio around AMG 899 and its PCSK9 inhibitor Repatha. Since then, expectations that CETP inhibitors will deliver on the promise that attracted a who’s who of Big Pharma companies have faded away completely.

Amgen’s formal exit from the field leaves a couple of smaller companies in the CETP race. DalCor Pharmaceuticals is running a phase 3 trial of dalcetrapib, a drug discarded by Roche. And Korea's Chong Kun Dang Pharmaceutical is testing its CETP drug in combination with statins in a midphase trial.