Merck kills PhIII migraine drug program

Merck's ($MRK) headaches in developing migraine drugs continue. The drug giant revealed today that it has kicked to the curb its late-stage drug telcagepant, a once-touted experimental drug for acute migraines. The drug is at least the second migraine program that the drugmaker has dumped in the past two years.

The company made its decision about telcagepant--a calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor antagonist--known in its quarterly earnings release, in which the company said it would shrink its workforce by an additional 11% to 13% by the end of 2015 as it reprioritizes its business to focus on key growth areas such as emerging markets. The fate of the migraine drug, which analysts had once projected to be potential blockbuster, was already in question after Merck delayed filing its application for approval back in 2009, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report.

Telcagepant was let go after the Big Pharma reviewed clinical trial data, which included a 6-month Phase III trial that was recently completed. While Merck's release didn't say what exactly was found that prompted it to discontinue the program, the company previously put its application on hold after finding elevated levels of liver enzymes in patients who took the drug. Increased liver enzyme levels were also factored into the firm's decision to cut a similar migraine candidate called MK-3207 nearly two years ago.

Either one of the two programs could have aided Merck in its fight to replenish its stock of new products amid generics competition. Teva Pharmaceutical has already gained a tentative FDA nod for a copycat version of Merck's migraine drug Maxalt, and a key patent for that drug is set to expire next year, opening the door to generic competitors.

- here's Merck's earnings release
- see the news from Dow Jones

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