Merck and Endocyte in $120 million deal – intestinal Parkinson’s gel gets positive results – and UK government gives fracking the green light

PHARMACEUTICAL: Global healthcare giant Merck & Co has teamed up with biopharma company Endocyte to develop and commercialise Endocyte’s cancer therapeutic candidate Vintafolide. Vintafolide is currently undergoing a Phase III trial  for platinum-resistant ovarian cancer and a Phase II trial for non-small cell lung cancer, but ‘Merck plans to further evaluate its potential for treatment of multiple other cancer types’, according to a statement by Peter Kim,  executive vice president and president Merck Research Laboratories. Under the agreement Endocyte receives an up front payment of $120 million (£75 million) and is eligible for milestone payments of up to $880 million, depending on Vintafolide’s success, as well as an equal share of the profits in the US if the drug receives regulatory approval. Merck gains exclusive rights to promote the drug in the rest of the world.

CHEMICAL: Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic), the petrochemical company, has announced a $100 million investment to build a new technology centre in Kangqiao, East of Shanghai, China. The centre will become home to some 400 employees who will relocate from other buildings, including 200 scientists and engineers who will work on research and development. The centre will include the China Automotive Innovation Hub for the design and creation of next generation energy-efficient vehicles, say Sabic.

PHARMACEUTICAL: UK drug discovery firm Conformetrix has signed a research collaboration deal with pharma giant AstraZeneca for an undisclosed sum. The agreement allows AstraZeneca to use Conformetrix’s proprietary NMR-based technology across its pre-clinical therapeutic pipeline. The technology can identify the conformations of drug molecules in their bioactive states without the need for traditional information about the protein target of each drug, and so it is hoped could enhance lead discovery and hit identification.

PHARMACEUTICAL: Abbot, the US healthcare giant which recently reported that it was splitting into two, has announced positive results from a Phase III trial of it’s investigational compound for advanced Parkinson’s disease, levodopa-carbidopa intestinal gel (LCIG). The gel is a slow release form of the drug, also available in tablet form for patients with advanced Parkinson’s, that is administered via an implanted tube connected to a pump. LCIG is already available in 40 countries outside the US but requires additional Phase III trials before it can be approved for use in Abbott’s home country.

CHEMICAL: Fracking has been in the news again, after a report by the UK government recommended that the practice should continue, but with new guidelines. Previous exploratory drilling in Lancashire was suspended after minor tremors but the report says that fracking should continue despite the minor earthquakes it may cause, while giving recommendations to mitigate the risks of such earthquakes. Currently, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is inviting comments from the public. Meanwhile, over the pond, three federal agencies have teamed up to coordinate all research associated with the US’s unconventional natural gas and oil resources. The Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior will cooperate as the US continues to increase its domestic oil and gas production, ensuring, according to the press release, that technologies such as fracking are developed and performed with the right safety and environmental protections in place.

Laura Howes

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