NGM Bio and Merck Refocus Collaboration on Retinal, CV and Metabolic Diseases

Merck_Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Kena Betancur/Getty Images

NGM Biopharmaceuticals and Merck announced they had amended their existing collaboration agreement. It will continue through March 2024, but have a narrower scope.

The amended collaboration will focus more tightly on developing therapies in retinal and cardiovascular and metabolic (CVM) diseases, including heart failure. Merck will keep an option to license the program under the amended deal. NGM picks up global rights to its disclosed oncology portfolio, in addition to all preclinical, and current and future research, for assets outside the new, narrower scope, with low single-digit net sales royalties to Merck.

“We are pleased to continue to collaborate with Merck to address retinal and CVM diseases that represent significant unmet needs, while moving forward with greater independence and flexibility to advance our broader portfolio of assets,” said David J. Woodhouse, chief executive officer of NGM. “We now have a portfolio of four disclosed wholly owned programs as well as multiple undisclosed preclinical and research programs, which puts us in a fundamentally different position.”

Woodhouse added, “Moreover, our in-house discovery engine can now work on programs solely for NGM’s benefit outside of Merck’s targeted areas. Bolstered by a strong balance sheet with runway expected to take us into the first half of 2024, we are well-positioned to advance multiple value-driving opportunities for stockholders.”

The main focus on retinal and CVM revolves around progress made on NGM621 and MK-3655, both discovered by NGM under the original collaboration deal. NGM621 is an anti-complement CD antibody being studied in the NGM-led Phase II CATALINA trial for geographic atrophy. MK-3655 is an FGFR1c/KLB agonist antibody previously licensed by Merck and is in a Merck-led Phase IIb trial in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

NGM plans to continue research and development on two undisclosed retinal targets in addition to CVM targets with an initial focus on heart failure. NGM will work exclusively with Merck in heart failure during the rest of the collaboration period. Merck holds an option to license compounds directed to targets that NGM develops within the scope of the amended collaboration at proof of concept or even earlier as specified in the amendment.

NGM’s disclosed oncology candidates all came from its in-house discovery engine and are now wholly owned by NGM. These include NGM120, a GFRAL antagonistic antibody in Phase II for metastatic pancreatic cancer and cancer-related cachexia (muscle wasting and extreme weight loss). NGM708 is an anti-ILT2/ILT4 dual antagonist antibody. NGM438 is a LAIR1 antagonist antibody. It also had total rights to existing preclinical and research assets and future assets it might develop from its own discovery engine.

Under the new deal, Merck is paying an aggregate of about $120 million in research and development funding to NGM through March 2024, including $86 million for April 2021 through March 2022, and additional possible option payments if Merck goes exercises its license option.

NGM has also committed to advancing an ocular program to a possible IND submission using its own funding after March 2022.

“Key to the success of our collaboration with NGM has been our companies’ unwavering commitment to scientific excellence,” said Dean Li, president, Merck Research Laboratories. “Our continued investment in NGM is due to the concentrated and reproducible effort of NGM scientists to select a problem, dissect and understand the molecular basis for it, and think carefully about how to address it. This amended agreement now enables the application of NGM’s biology-centric discovery approach to further explore new opportunities in important therapeutics areas such as retinal and cardiometabolic diseases.”

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