Merck hands investment, gene therapy programs to Finnish upstart

An upstart Finnish biotech founded by ex-Ark CEO Nigel Parker has landed a major contract with Merck ($MRK) to work on the pharma giant's gene therapy portfolio. And Parker tells Reuters that Merck tracked him down at his new biotech, FKD Therapies, to pitch the idea due to his considerable experience in the field.

"(Merck's portfolio) is important clinically, and this allows it to be developed with people who have been absolutely in the thick of gene therapy," Parker told Reuters. In addition to the contract, Merck also took an equity stake in the company, which the CEO says has $16 million in cash.

First up in the pipeline: A new gene therapy that uses the common adenovirus to transport an interferon gene into bladder wall cells, setting it up as a better approach to producing a protein that can attack tumor cells. Close to half of the 14 patients recruited for a very early-stage Phase I study went three months without a recurrence of their cancer, Reuters reports.

Ark, of course, ran into severe problems after European regulators rejected Cerepro, its gene therapy for brain cancer, last year. After failing to put a buyout deal together, the biotech is now being restructured.  

- here's the story from Reuters