Merck acquires Aussie immunotherapies company Viralytics for US$394mn
Leading biopharmaceutical company, Merck, has recently acquired Australian based oncolytic immunotherapies company Viralytics for US$394mn. The deal will support Merck’s ambitions to deliver essential cancer treatments, whilst exploring the potential of immune-oncology with one of the largest-growing development programmes in the industry.
Viralytics product, CAVATAK is being utilised in Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials for the treatment of melanoma, as well as bladder and lung cancers.
CAVATAK is a proprietary formulation of the Coxsackievirus Type A21 (CVA21) that preferentially binds to specific ‘receptor’ proteins highly expressed on multiple cancer types.
CAVATAK acts to kill both local and metastatic cancer cells through cell lysis and the potential generation of an immune response against the cancer cells – a two-pronged mechanism of action known as oncolytic immunotherapy, according to a recent press release.
Through acquiring the company, Merck will gain the rights to CAVATAK, whilst also combining this with its KEYTRUDA therapy within the treatment of such cancers.
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“Viralytics’s approach of engaging the innate immune system to target and kill cancer cells complements our immuno-oncology strategy, which is focused on the rapid advancement of innovative monotherapy approaches and synergistic combinations to help the broadest range of cancer patients,” explained Dr Roy Baynes, Senior Vice President and Head of Global Clinical Development, Chief Medical Officer, Merck Research Laboratories.
“We are eager to further build on Viralytics’s science as we continue our efforts to harness the immune system to improve long-term disease control and survival outcomes for people with cancer.”
“Viralytics is proud to have progressed its lead investigational candidate CAVATAK to Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials and we believe that Merck is best suited to advance CAVATAK for the benefit of patients globally, and to realise its potential,” added Dr Malcolm McColl, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Viralytics.
Merck and Viralytics anticipate the transaction will be implemented by the second quarter of 2018.
Additionally, the company has also invested $47mn to construct a new manufacturing and distribution platform in Asia, highlighting the increased demand for access to pharmaceutical products and solutions across the country.
NHS trials test that predicts sepsis 3 days in advance
A new test that can predict sepsis before the patient develops symptoms is being trialled at a National Health Service (NHS) hospital in the south of England.
Clinicians at Portsmouth’s Queen Alexandra Hospital are leading medical trials of the blood test, which they hope will help them save thousands of lives a year.
The test is being developed by government spin-out company Presymptom Health, but the research began over 10 years ago at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). This included a study of 4,385 patients and more than 70,000 samples, the largest study of its kind at the time.
From the samples taken, a clinical biobank and database were generated and then mined using machine learning to identify biomarker signatures that could predict the onset of sepsis. The researchers found they were able to provide an early warning of sepsis up to three days ahead of illness with an accuracy of up to 90%.
Unlike most other tests, Presymptom Health identifies the patient’s response to the disease as opposed to detecting the pathogen. This is an important differentiator, as sepsis occurs as a result of the patient's immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury, which can then cause life-threatening organ dysfunction.
Worldwide, an estimated 49 million people a year contract sepsis, while in the UK almost two million patients admitted to hospital each year are thought to be at risk of developing the condition. If Presymptom's test is effective, it could save billions of pounds globally and improve clinical outcomes for millions of sepsis patients.
The initial trials at Queen Alexandra Hospital will last 12 months, with two other sites planned to go live this summer. Up to 600 patients admitted to hospital with respiratory tract infections will be given the option to participate in the trial. The data collected will be independently assessed and used to refine and validate the test, which could be available for broader NHS use within two years.
If successful, this test could also identify sepsis arising from other infections before symptoms appear, which could potentially include future waves of COVID-19 and other pandemics.
Dr Roman Lukaszewski, the lead Dstl scientist behind the innovation, said: “It is incredible to see this test, which we had originally begun to develop to help service personnel survive injury and infection on the front line, is now being used for the wider UK population, including those fighting COVID-19.”