Merck’s Acceleron Integration To Take Out 143 Jobs in Cambridge, MA

Merck_Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

In November 2021, Merck completed its acquisition of Acceleron Pharma for about $11.5 billion. As is often the case with mergers and acquisitions, jobs get cut because of duplications. In this case, Merck announced that it will lay off 170 people from the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Acceleron.

“On Tuesday, March 15, Merck issued a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN”) notice to 143 legacy employees of Acceleron Pharma who will be separating from the company in a phased manner through November 18, 2022," a Merck spokesperson told BioSpace. "Around the time of the acquisition, employees were either offered a full-time role or were asked to remain to support the integration for a defined period of time. As part of the ongoing integration of Acceleron, we have extended more than 160 offers since November 2021, of which 75% have accepted positions since the acquisition was announced.”

“These actions are in alignment with our overall strategy of integrating the two companies,” a Merck spokesperson said. “Currently, there are no further plans for company-wide restructuring or layoffs.”

As of December 31, 2020, Acceleron had 312 full-time positions. No details about which divisions are being affected were disclosed.

Acceleron focuses on the transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta superfamily of proteins. These play a key role in regulating cell growth, differentiation and cell repair. The company’s lead program is sotatercept, in Phase III development for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). PAH is a progressive and life-threatening blood vessel disorder.

The acquisition also included Acceleron’s Reblozyl (luspatercept-aamt), a first-in-class erythroid maturation recombinant fusion protein. The drug was approved in the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia for anemia related to certain rare blood disorders. It is developed and commercialized via a global pact with Bristol Myers Squibb. Ahead of the acquisition, Acceleron reported about $32 million in royalty revenue from the drug in the third quarter of 2021 from about $160 million in net sales.

Although still a dominant player in the oncology market, Merck’s mega-blockbuster Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is facing loss of market exclusivity in 2028. That drug alone makes up close to 40% of the company’s annual revenue. The acquisition of Acceleron was in part to gain greater access to the rare disease market and based on the thought that sotatercept could be worth billions of dollars. Merck has indicated that it sees the PAH market as worth about $7.5 billion by 2026.

Meanwhile, Keytruda continues to rack up approvals for new indications seemingly every week. On March 25, the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) recommended approval of Keytruda as a monotherapy for treatment of several microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) tumors in adults that had unresectable or metastatic colorectal cancer after previous fluoropyrimidine-based combination therapy; advanced or recurrent endometrial carcinoma that has progressed on or after previous platinum therapy in any setting who are not candidates for curative surgery or radiation; unresectable or metastatic gastric, small intestine or biliary cancer where the disease progressed on or after at least one previous therapy.

On the same day, CHMP recommended the drug in combination with chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab for persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer in adults whose tumors express PD-L1.

And on March 21, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug as a monotherapy for patients with advanced endometrial carcinoma that is MSI-H or dMMR whose disease has progressed after prior systemic therapy and who are not candidates for surgery or radiation.

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