Merck & Co. is buying the biopharmaceutical company OncoImmune, which has reported positive results from a late-stage study of a coronavirus therapeutic candidate, for $425 million in cash.
The acquisition is the big drugmaker’s latest in its catch-up in the most important vaccine and treatment chase in modern history. Earlier Monday, AstraZeneca PLC and the University of Oxford said their Covid-19 vaccine was as much as 90% effective in preventing infections without serious side effects in large clinical trials, and a shot created by Moderna Inc. and one jointly made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE were found to be more than 90% effective in their own late-stage trials.
Under the deal, expected to close by the end of the year, OncoImmune shareholders would be eligible for milestone- and sales-based payments, the companies said Monday. OncoImmune will also spin off an entity involving certain rights and assets unrelated to the Covid-19 treatment to a new entity owned by existing shareholders before the acquisition, with Merck investing $50 million and becoming a minority shareholder in it, the companies added.
Patients with severe or critical Covid-19 who were treated with a single dose of OncoImmune’s therapeutic candidate, known as CD24Fc, had a 60% higher probability of improvement than those treated with the placebo, OncoImmune said of its interim analysis of data from 203 participants, or 75% of the planned enrollment in its phase 3 clinical trial. The dose reduced the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50%, the Rockville, Md., company added.
Merck, based in Kenilworth, N.J., is a longtime maker of vaccines and antivirals, including human papillomavirus shot Gardasil. The company in September said it had begun testing one of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine candidates in healthy volunteers. It laid out a Covid-19 vaccine program in late May, at a time when several rivals had developed vaccines and begun testing them on healthy volunteers.