Portola vows to go it alone after Merck spurns cardio drug pact

Merck ($MRK) is writing off the $470 million deal it struck with Portola Pharmaceuticals back in 2009 on betrixaban, an anti-clotting drug once touted as a key asset in the Big Pharma's late-stage cardio portfolio. But rather than lament the loss, Portola is vowing to push ahead to a new drug app independently.

"Regaining full rights to betrixaban represents a transformational opportunity for Portola," said William Lis, chief executive officer of Portola, a 2009 Fierce 15 company. "We will work with our academic partners on options for an independent development plan to bring betrixaban to the market and intend to discuss these options with the FDA in the near future." Merck said the therapy didn't make the cut after it prioritized its pipeline assets.

"Working closely with our Portola collaborators we have advanced betrixaban to this Phase III-ready stage," said Luciano Rossetti, M.D., senior vice president, Global Scientific Strategy at Merck. "As part of an ongoing prioritization of our late-stage pipeline, we have decided to return rights for betrixaban to Portola."

When Merck signed up about two years ago, paying $50 million upfront, researchers had been thrilled by betrixaban's potential as a leading program in the Factor Xa inhibitor class. And investigators reported that they had completed a positive mid-stage trial, leaving the drug ready to go into a pivotal trial.

- here's the Merck release