GE licenses Alzheimer's imaging agent to Merck

GE Healthcare has licensed its Alzheimer's imaging agent to Merck--courtesy of GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare ($GE) has long been in the race to get an Alzheimer's imaging agent on the market, and now it has joined forces with Merck ($MRK), agreeing to supply its investigative flutemetamol to select trial participants for MK-8931, Merck's blockbuster hopeful in the perilous world of Alzheimer's drug development.

Flutemetamol is injected into patients before PET scans, detecting beta amyloid deposits in the brain, believed to be biomarkers for future Alzheimer's development. The deal pairs the agent with Merck's drug, which works by inhibiting an enzyme that aids in developing amyloid beta peptide, thereby cutting back amyloid.

After using flutemetamol to choose trial participants, Merck will evaluate the agent as a possible companion diagnostic down the line, Senior VP Darryle Schoepp said.

"There is a serious unmet need for a reliable method for measuring beta amyloid deposits to help physicians diagnose Alzheimer's disease at its different stages and study its progression," Schoepp said in a statement, adding that GE's agent holds the promise of marking the often clandestine disease and guiding treatment.

Flutemetamol remains in-development, but, in a Phase III study, the agent detected beta amyloid with a median sensitivity ranging from 75% to 100% and specificity ranging from 99% to 100%.

For Merck, the path to market is more fraught. The drugmaker is moving forward with a Phase II/III study of its treatment as competitors such as Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) abandon ship on their late-stage therapies. And, as John Carroll noted in FierceBiotech, Merck is targeting the same later-stage Alzheimer's population that failed to produce results for Lilly and BMS, ignoring a trend in R&D to go after early-phase patients.

But that's where GE comes in. If flutemetamol works as well as advertised, Merck could have a blockbuster targeted therapy on its hands, succeeding where so many others have failed.

- here's the announcement