Merck & Co. bolsters vaccine development capabilities with deal to buy Immune Design

Merck & Co. entered a definitive agreement to acquire Immune Design for $5.85 per share in cash, or approximately $300 million, boosting its capabilities in vaccine development for infectious diseases and cancer, the companies announced Thursday. Shares in Immune Design closed at $1.42 on February 20, while the transaction is expected to close early in the second quarter.

Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, remarked "scientists at Immune Design have established a unique portfolio of approaches to cancer immunisation and adjuvant systems designed to enhance the ability of a vaccine to protect against infection, which could meaningfully improve vaccine development."

Merck noted that Immune Design's technologies, dubbed GLAAS and ZVex, are "engineered to activate the immune system's natural ability to generate and/or expand antigen-specific cytotoxic immune cells to fight cancer and other chronic diseases." Immune Design's lead candidate G100 is an intratumoural TLR4 agonist that Merck said has shown clinical benefit in multiple tumour types. 

Immune Design switched focus to G100 in October last year after terminating a Phase III trial of its CMB305 cancer vaccine programme in synovial sarcoma patients in a post-first-line therapy maintenance setting. The decision came after a review of the programme, including an early analysis of an ongoing mid-stage study that showed that the combination of CMB305 plus Roche's Tecentriq (atezolizumab) "is not likely to show a survival benefit" in patients with relapsed synovial sarcoma.

At the time, Immune Design said that it planned to assess G100 in combination with Merck's anti-PD-1 drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for the treatment of patients with follicular lymphoma who received at least three prior lines of systemic therapy.

Commenting on the deal, SVB Leerink analyst Jonathan Chang said that it's unlikely other bidders will emerge for Immune Design, which first went public in 2014, raising around $60 million.

In 2016, Merck entered into a collaboration with Moderna Therapeutics to advance mRNA-based personalised cancer vaccines for the treatment of multiple cancer types. That partnership was expanded last year to jointly develop the investigational KRAS vaccine mRNA-5671.



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