Merck moves to buy Immune Design and its cancer vaccines platform for $300M

Handshake business deal executives
Merck's offer represents a 300% premium over Immune Design's share price, with the deal expected to close early in the second quarter. (Pixabay)

Merck & Co. is making a $300 million move to acquire Immune Design, developers of a midphase immunotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus and peanut allergies.

The Big Pharma plans to make a tender offer of $5.85 for each of Immune Design’s outstanding shares—resulting in a premium of just over 300%—and aims to obtain all remaining unacquired shares through a second-step merger. The companies said they expect the full deal to close early in the second quarter of this year.

“Scientists at Immune Design have established a unique portfolio of approaches to cancer immunization and adjuvant systems designed to enhance the ability of a vaccine to protect against infection, which could meaningfully improve vaccine development,” Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement.

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Immune Design’s in vivo approaches are designed to prod the body’s immune system into generating antigen-specific cells to fight cancer and other diseases, with its GLAAS and ZVex platforms aiming to boost responses locally within the tumor microenvironment.

The synthetic, small-molecule GLAAS platform triggers the production of CD4 helper T cells by the immune system and forms the basis of Immune Design’s lead candidate, G100, for follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who have not responded to at least three previous treatments.

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The therapy is currently in a phase 1/2 study and has received an orphan drug designation from the FDA, with Immune Design planning to expand development into earlier lines of lymphoma and additional B-cell cancers, as well as solid tumors.

The company redoubled its efforts toward G100 last October, after it dropped development of its CMB305 cancer vaccine following an early analysis of a phase 2 study in combination with Genentech’s Tecentriq, in relapsed synovial sarcoma patients. At the time, Immune Design said it would seek external collaborations to continue CMB305’s development in sarcoma.

Meanwhile, in preclinical development, ZVex consists of a viral vector that delivers genetic code for a tumor antigen to dendritic cells in the skin, which in turn direct T cells to attack and kill tumors.

The Seattle-based Immune Design had previously signed on to a collaboration with Sanofi to develop a peanut allergy treatment using its GLAAS technology. The 2014 deal included a $3.5 million upfront payment and up to $168 million in potential milestones.

But in December 2018, Immune Design disclosed in an SEC filing that Sanofi had elected to terminate the food allergy licensing deal, effective June 6, 2019 at the latest, following “portfolio prioritization” by the French drugmaker. However, a separate collaboration—to develop a herpes simplex virus vaccine through Sanofi Pasteur—would continue its work, according to the filing.

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