Merrimack ropes back international rights to cancer drug in $220M pact

When Merrimack Pharmaceuticals bought out Hermes Biosciences near the end of 2009, it touted the prospects for the UCSF spinout's lead drug, MM-398, then in mid-stage studies for multiple cancer indications. Today the Cambridge, MA-based biotech, which relies on its skills in systems analysis to identify and develop new drugs, fetched back most of the international rights to the drug which had been licensed out to Taiwan's PharmaEngine.

In exchange for a $10 million upfront and the promise of up to $210 million more in milestones, Merrimack acquired the marketing rights to the drug in Europe and all of Asia, with the exception of Taiwan. The pact leaves Merrimack with almost all of the marbles for the program as it lays the foundation for pivotal trial work.

"We believe that unifying the development strategy of MM-398 is critical as we plan to move the program forward into late stage clinical trials in indications like gemcitabine-refractory pancreatic cancer where patients have very limited options," said Robert Mulroy, the CEO of Merrimack. "The PharmaEngine team has laid a great foundation for phase 3 development and commercialization by conducting clinical trials across multiple indications and we look forward to working aggressively with them to bring this product to market."

Described as a highly stable nanoliposomal formulation of irinotecan, final data from the Phase II gastric cancer trial and interim data on the Phase II pancreatic cancer trial were presented at the 2011 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in January.  MM-398 is also being evaluated in a Phase I glioma trial under an investigator-sponsored IND at the University of California, San Francisco.

- here's the Merrimack release