"Merck's newly integrated pipeline follows a comprehensive prioritization process that closely examined all compounds in development at both companies prior to the merger. Candidates were prioritized based on a series of criteria, including potential for impact on human health, molecular characteristics, stage of development, probability of success and commercial potential.
The new combined pipeline is composed of small molecules, vaccines and biologics targeting a broad range of unmet medical needs including: atherosclerosis and thrombosis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis C infection, insomnia, and schizophrenia.
Merck's pipeline is particularly strong in therapeutic areas in which both companies have long-established research programs, such as cardiovascular disease and infectious diseases; Merck has eight investigational medicines in each of these two categories."
Yesterday, Merck announced the results of their pipeline evaluation and prioritisation following the recent merger with Schering Plough. There are 19 projects in phase III development across all therapy areas. Although the two key areas for both companies were the same (cardiovascular and infectious diseases), there was little overlap, so the combined company now has 8 compounds in each area to manage.
What was interesting to me though, was what would happen in oncology where there was some overlap?
It now seems that Merck's IGF-1R inhibitor, dalotuzumab, which is in phase II development, has been selected as the lead cancer candidate. This is good news for those interested in the IGF-1R pathway after recent events that saw Roche handing back R1507 to Genmab and Pfizer's figitumumab hitting some roadblocks in newly diagnosed non-small cell lung cancer.
We know that adding an EGFR inhibitor reduces cross-talk between EGFR and IGF1R and including either an AKT or mTOR inhibitor may also reduce opportunities for resistance developing. Merck recently presented data at the ASCO GI meeting in pancreatic cancer with several drugs in combination, including metformin to reduce the hyperglycemia effect. The scientists and clinicians did a nice job thinking some of the issues through and managing the effects considering the side effect issues seen with figitumumab.
Of course, the co-development of the mTOR, ridoforolimus, continues in conjunction with Ariad and new data from the phase III trials in soft tissue sarcoma is eagerly anticipated by many at ASCO in June.
In my view, the most interesting cancer agents that Merck has are probably in phase I, time will tell what happens to those.