Merck Buys EyeBio for $3B and Shares Global Policy Perspectives During BIO in San Diego

by Bernice Lottering
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President of Merck Human Health, Jannie Oosthuizen, shares global policy perspectives during BIO in San Diego.

This year, at the same time as the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Annual Meeting, Merck announced that it would acquire EyeBio, a private ophthalmic biotechnology company, for up to $3 billion. The deal included an upfront payment of $1.3 billion and up to $1.7 billion in milestone payments. This acquisition aims to enhance Merck‘s ophthalmology pipeline and leverage EyeBio’s expertise in retinal disease treatment. Additionally, at the recent Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) International Convention in San Diego, Merck discussed the global policy perspectives on the next generation of rare disease medicines.

Merck Acquires EyeBio: A $3 Billion Leap in Ophthalmology Innovation

Merck (NYSE: MRK) has officially sealed the deal with Eyebiotech Limited (EyeBio) to acquire the company through its subsidiary. This strategic acquisition involves Merck acquiring all outstanding shares of EyeBio, with an initial payment of $1.3 billion and potential additional payments of up to $1.7 billion linked to development, regulatory, and commercial milestones, amounting to a substantial $3 billion transaction. The acquisition has received unanimous approval from EyeBio’s board of directors, marking a significant milestone in Merck’s expansion into the ophthalmology sector.

EyeBio is developing a range of clinical and preclinical drug candidates to combat vision loss due to retinal vascular leakage, a major risk factor for retinal disease. Their lead candidate, Restoret™ (EYE103), is a quadrivalent, trispecific antibody that activates the Wnt signaling pathway. Positive results from the open-label Phase Ib/IIa AMARONE study in diabetic macular edema (DME) and neovascular age-related macular degeneration (NVAMD) patients have paved the way for a pivotal Phase IIb/III trial expected in the second half of 2024.

Merck and EyeBio Aim to Optimize Retinal Disease Treatments

The acquisition will bolster Merck’s product pipeline and expand its presence in ophthalmology. EyeBio’s experienced team and leadership, including founders Dr. David Guyer and Dr. Tony Adamis, will continue advancing the clinical development of Restoret and other ongoing programs as part of Merck. The acquisition is subject to approval under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act and other customary conditions, with an expected closing in Q3 2024. Merck plans to record a $1.3 billion charge in the quarter when the transaction closes, to be included in non-GAAP results.

Dr. Dean Y. Li, President of Merck Research Laboratories, stated, “We continue to execute our science-led business development strategy to expand and diversify our product pipeline. Under the leadership of Dr. David Guyer and Dr. Tony Adamis, the EyeBio team has a proven track record of developing breakthrough eye therapies, and combined with Merck’s strengths, we will advance our drug candidates for retinal diseases in a rigorous and expedited manner.”

Dr. David R. Guyer, CEO and President of EyeBio, commented, “The EyeBio team has successfully assembled a pipeline of drug candidates with the potential to provide new treatment options for retinal diseases. As a subsidiary of Merck, EyeBio will have access to the necessary resources and infrastructure to support the clinical, regulatory, and commercial development of these drug candidates and assist in their introduction to patients around the world.”

Insights in Navigating Global Policies for Rare Disease Medicines

At BIO 2024 in San Diego, the session titled “Global Policy Perspectives on the Next Generation of Rare Disease Medicines” was a pivotal discussion that explored the evolving landscape of global policies surrounding rare disease medicines. Moderated by Jannie Oosthuizen, a seasoned leader at Merck Human Health U.S., the session explored the implications of these policies on patient access and the ongoing investment in innovative orphan drugs.

The discussion began by examining how global policies shaped the development and availability of rare disease medicines. Policymakers were highlighted for their crucial role in ensuring equitable access to life-changing therapies, given the unique challenges rare diseases pose in diagnosis, treatment, and affordability.

Throughout the session, the impact of policy frameworks on investment decisions within the pharmaceutical industry was thoroughly explored. Participants explored regulatory environments, reimbursement mechanisms, and market dynamics, shedding light on how these factors influenced the development and commercialization of innovative orphan drugs. Additionally, discussions centered on the role of government incentives and collaborations in driving research and development efforts for rare diseases, emphasizing the need for sustainable funding models to support ongoing innovation and ensure continuous access to vital medicines for patients worldwide.

Overall, the session provided valuable insights into navigating regulatory complexities, fostering innovation, and improving patient outcomes in the realm of rare diseases. Participants gained a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the global rare disease medicines landscape, paving the way for informed decision-making and impactful policy strategies.

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