The third straight Phase III failure for CETP inhibition points to trouble ahead for Merck.
Long after Roche ($RHHBY) and Pfizer ($PFE) both had to endure embarrassing late-stage failures with their own would-be cholesterol drug blockbusters that work through CETP inhibition, Eli Lilly ($LLY) investigators were still confidently projecting a success for evacetrapib. The earlier therapies were too weak when it came to inhibition, they said. And Lilly was on to big things with evacetrapib.
Instead of proving the skeptics wrong, though, evacetrapib simply reminded many observers just how stubborn the pharma giant can be in the face of failure. The company doesn't back away from tough targets, as it proved after suffering some major blows on the Alzheimer's front. It's faced the same tough odds on solanezumab, mounting a whole new Phase III effort in the wake of a flop, and will face the same scrutiny--or worse--if that goes down to defeat as well.
Evacetrapib was another one of Lilly's failed attempts at a home run. In the meantime, it's scored some badly needed successes in cancer, with some marginal improvements for patients on that front. And its recent success with Jardiance will keep Lilly competitive in diabetes--no small thing for this company.
The flop at Eli Lilly puts Merck's ($MRK) last-ditch effort on anacetrapib under an even bigger cloud, as even the most dogged supporters among the sell-side analysts have now discounted any chance of success in their much larger, 30,000-patient Phase III study. Most of the industry has moved on past CETP inhibition and focused on PCSK9, where two drugs have been approved and more are likely to follow.
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