2022-07-14| Partnerships

Orion Collects $290 Million From Merck in Prostate Cancer Development Collaboration

by Reed Slater
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Finland-based Orion Corporation announced on July 13 that it would receive $290 million from New Jersey-based Merck and Co. in a collaboration developing ODM-208, an investigational treatment for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). The hefty deal comes at a critical time for Orion after it recently announced a restructuring of its research and development programs resulting in a layoff. 


Leveraging Enzyme-Inhibiting Technology for Oncology Development


ODM-208 is a candidate in Phase 2 trials designed to treat mCRPC by targeting cytochrome P450 11A1 (CYP11A1), an enzyme important in steroid production. Merck is excited about the enzyme inhibiting aspect of ODM-208, and, as part of the deal, Merck has the option to co-develop other CYP11A1 inhibiting drugs in Orion’s pipeline. 

Dr. Dean Y. Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said, “Targeting CYP11A1 provides a compelling approach to suppressing the production of steroid hormones, a key driver of prostate cancer.”

Both companies will have the option to convert the agreement to an exclusive global license for Merck, in which Merck would assume responsibility for accrued and future development and commercialization costs. Orion will be eligible for milestone payments in the development process and tiered double-digit royalties upon commercialization of the product. 

The $290 million payment will come in the third quarter of 2022, and Orion will allocate about €60 million to cover the future development costs of ODM-208. Orion recognizes €220 million as income at the time of signing. Orion will be responsible for manufacturing the clinical and commercial supply of ODM-208. 

Related Article: Merck Reportedly Interested in Potential $40 Billion SeaGen Buyout


Perfect Timing for a Refocused Orion


The timing of Orion’s partnership with Merck could not have come at a better time for the Finnish company after it recently announced a restructuring of its research and development operations, significantly thinning its pipeline. In order to focus funds on cancer and pain treatment development, Orion will phase out neurodegenerative development programs and potentially cut back its inhaled pulmonary drugs in early development. 

Orion will continue to sell and market existing products, which account for most of its yearly revenue. In 2021, the company posted net sales of 1.04 billion, a slight decrease from previous years. Though the company is still in good standing, the recent refocusing efforts could result in up to 37 employees getting laid off. 

Merck and Orion’s collaboration is a prime alliance, with both companies having success in the prostate cancer realm. Merck has three prostate cancer treatment candidates in Phase 2 trials and one in Phase 3. Orion developed darolutamide with Bayer and received FDA approval in 2019 for the drug to treat mCRPC. Now, the Finnish company has two ongoing Phase 3 trials for darolutamide targeting another prostate cancer indication. 

Even with a thinner pipeline, Orion’s research and development programs have potential, evidenced by the $290 million deal with Merck. Orion is accustomed to success, and the agreement with Merck appears to be another step in the prosperous history of the company. 

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