Drug industry heavyweight Merck has announced that it will be purchasing Idenix Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company, for $3.85 billion. Idenix Pharmaceuticals, based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops drugs for human viral diseases, focusing in particular on treatments for hepatitis C virus, or HCV. This move could be a smart one for Merck, considering that the market for HCV treatment is estimated to hit $200 billion worldwide over the next 15 years.
Idenix’s promising experimental HCV drug, samatasivir, has already reached mid-stage testing. Samatasvir is a NS5A inhibitor which works by disrupting the virus’s life cycle. Two other HCV experimental drugs produced by Idenix, IDX21437 and IDX21459, are nucleotide prodrug inhibitors, which work by preventing the virus from replicating by using the virus’ own genetic material. The Wall Street Journal says that Merck is particularly interested in IDX21437, and that the company plans to combine the drug with two of its own to create a triple regimen to cure hepatitis C.
“Idenix has a very potent nucleotide,” Dr. Nezam Afdhal, director of hepatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told the Boston Globe. “By combining it with Merck’s drugs, they have the potential to be well in excess of a 95 percent cure rate against all types of hepatitis C. And it could shorten the duration of treatment from 12 weeks to six to eight weeks.”
Merck’s own treatment for HCV, a combination of drug candidates MK-5172 and MK-8742, has already been deemed a breakthrough therapy by the FDA, which has provided the company with expedited development and review processes which can help its drug hit the market faster.
It is not yet known how Merck will be using Idenix’s portfolio of drugs, or if they intend to merge portions of each company’s HCV treatments. Ron Renaud, President and CEO of Idenix, released a statement on the acquisition. “Merck has established a strong legacy of leadership and innovation in treating hepatitis C,” he said. “This agreement creates shareholder value by positioning Idenix’s strong portfolio of candidates for future success with a leading healthcare company with the experience and commitment to develop fixed-dosed combinations with the potential to impact the global burden of hepatitis C.”
HCV is a chronic blood-borne infection in the U.S., afflicting around 3.2 million individuals. The disease is typically transferred through the blood during injection. HCV symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting and joint pain. Untreated HCV can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The virus is estimated to kill as many as 16,000 people annually in the U.S.