Research Triangle Park, NC-based Chimerix has inked its first big partnership, reaping a $17.5 million upfront payment and a promise of up to $151 million more from Merck ($MRK), which gains rights to a mid-stage antiviral–CMX157–which has prospects as a new addition to future HIV cocktails.
It’s a key deal for Chimerix, which has a platform for a lipid-antiviral conjugate technology that promises to rev up existing meds, turning them into chemical antiviral assault weapons that can trump anything that’s currently expected of them. In this case, CMX157 is a more potent version of Viread.
“It’s a lipid technology that dramatically alters the ADME (absorption,distribution, metabolism, and excretion profile) of the drug, really intracellular drug delivery,” CEO Ken Moch tells FierceBiotech.
For Merck, the Chimerix pact is the most prominent move in a flurry of actions on the HIV front. While it was readying the news Merck–an active player in the HIV field–also signed a deal to develop Yamasa’s inhibitor EFdA, which has showed some potential against the HIV virus. And Merck is readying a mid-stage study of MK-1439 in treatment naive patients.
Both of Chimerix’s programs are “orally delivered, absorbed through the gut, and remain intact in the blood stream,” says the CEO. “It’s only inside the cell membrane that the molecules are broken apart by the enzymes inside the cells, and converted into active, potent antivirals.” Merck’s main goal here is to be on the cutting edge of the next generation of antivirals. “We think this drug has the chance to be a much longer delivery cycle,” he adds, which can change the dosing parameters while maintaining a positive safety and efficacy profile.
The deal with Merck leaves Chimerix focused squarely on its lead program. Company officials have wrapped up their end of Phase II meeting with regulators and are preparing for Phase III. Under an ideal timeline, says the CEO, they can be on the market in 2016, with plans to retain U.S. marketing rights while partnering outside the states.
Those partnering talks, he adds, are already well under way. And with a pharma giant like Merck signing up for a licensing deal, he says, the tech endorsement should improve the company’s prospects. Chimerix’s staff has swelled to about 50 and the company has raised $101 million in venture cash.