Merck pens $500M Yumanity pact, nabbing 2 neuro hopefuls in the process

Merck is willing to spend $500 million-plus on a deal that sees it gain access to a clutch of Yumanity’s neurodegenerative disease drugs.

The U.S. Big Pharma nabs exclusive rights for two preclinical assets targeting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTLD). ALS causes a gradual deterioration and death of motor neurons, and will usually prove fatal.

There are currently four drugs approved by the U.S. FDA to treat ALS: Radicava, Rilutek, Tiglutik and Nuedexta, with Radicava the most recent with a 2017 FDA approval. But none of these drugs are curative and are limited in who they can help, and by how much.

FTLD, meanwhile, is an umbrella term for a group of uncommon brain disorders that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These areas of the brain are generally associated with personality, behavior and language

Both of these areas are also being investigated by startup QurAlis, which officially launched under a $42 million series A last month, although it is keeping mum about how exactly it is going after these rare diseases.

Given its preclinical, no surprise that Yumanity isn’t going into specifics either. Merck however has clearly seen something its likes, and will now work with Yumanity on the two preclinical programs during the research term, after which “Merck has the right to continue clinical development and commercialization,” according to a statement.

The financials of the deal break down like this: Merck pays $500 million “associated with the successful development of marketed products for pipeline programs, as well as royalties on net sales.” It’s also stumping up cash as part of its series C round of financing.

“We are excited to collaborate with the Merck neuroscience team focused on the goal of bringing novel therapeutic options to ALS and FTLD patients,” said Richard Peters, CEO of Yumanity, a 2015 Fierce 15 winner.  “This alliance reflects our shared commitment to neurodegenerative diseases that continue to have high unmet need. We look forward to a productive collaboration.”

Merck’s neuro pipeline is pretty slim after dumping its failed Alzheimer's projects, with just a schizophrenia drug in phase 2 and most of its other drugs focused on vaccines and cancer, as well Keytruda combos.

“There remains tremendous unmet medical need for the treatment of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar dementia,” added Fiona Marshall, VP of neuroscience discovery, Merck Research Laboratories. 

“We look forward to working with scientists at Yumanity to advance research and evaluate the potential for therapeutic intervention in these neurodegenerative diseases.”