Merck Serono/Nordic Bioscience and Merck KGaA/BMS: Merck Serono, a unit of Merck KGaA, said on March 18 it formed a strategic alliance with Denmark-based Nordic Bioscience AS around the German drug maker’s investigational therapy sprifermin, or recombinant human FGF-18, in osteoarthritis of the knee. Under the terms of the agreement, Nordic Bioscience will provide Merck with clinical development services on a shared-risk basis in exchange for a payment structure that includes service fees and potential milestone and royalty payments on the program. Financial terms of the collaboration were not disclosed; however. Merck retains full responsibility for the development and commercialization of the investigational drug. According to the World Health Organization, more than 5% of adults over 40 in developed countries, or more than 30 million people, suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee. A multi-national Phase IIb trial, dubbed the FORWARD study, is expected to begin enrolment in the second half of 2013 to evaluate further sprifermin for inhibition of the progression of structural damage, reduction in pain and improvement of physical function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Sprifermin is a protein thought to induce chondrocyte stimulation leading to matrix synthesis and chondrocyte renewal. It is delivered by intra-articular injection. Two phase I trials in moderate/severe osteoarthritis of the knee previously were completed; a Phase II trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety in patients with cartilage injury of the knee is ongoing. The program was originally was in-licensed in 2004 from ZymoGenetics, a Bristol-Myers subsidiary. The next day, on March 19, Merck KGaA said it inked a deal with Bristol to promote type 2 diabetes drug Glucophage (metformin hydrochloride) under different formulations in China. Under terms of the agreement, Merck Serono and Bristol will co-promote Glucophage in China through a profit-sharing arrangement. Glucophage has been marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb-SASS in China since 1999. The two companies will tap existing resources and complementary strengths, with Bristol-Myers Squibb-SASS continuing to manufacture Glucophage’s IR (immediate release) formulation. The collaboration will seek to expand the geographic distribution of Glucophage and provide diabetes-related health and medical information including education for health professionals. In addition, the co-promotion will significantly increase outreach to hospitals. Other terms of the agreement were not disclosed. -- S.S.
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