By Ransdell Pierson
April 29 Pfizer Inc and Merck & Co Inc said they
will co-develop Pfizer's experimental type 2 diabetes drug
ertugliflozin, both as a standalone product and in combination
with other drugs, including Merck's blockbuster Januvia.
The Pfizer medicine belongs to a new class of diabetes
treatments called SGLT2 inhibitors. Now nearing Phase III
late-stage trials, it is behind similar drugs in development --
including Johnson & Johnson's Invokana (canagliflozin)
which was approved by U.S. regulators in late March.
Under their partnership, Merck and Pfizer
will collaborate on development and marketing of ertugliflozin
as well as on tablets that pair it with Januvia and the widely
used oral treatment metformin.
Januvia is the leading member of another class of diabetes
drugs called DPP-4 inhibitors. It is also sold in combination
with another type of drug called metformin, under the brand name
Janumet. The Januvia/Janumet tablets have annual sales of $5.75
billion, making them Merck's biggest products.
Richard Purkiss, an analyst with Atlantic Equities, said
little is yet known about the Pfizer drug, but he said both
companies stand to gain by developing it together.
"If you add Pfizer's drug to Januvia -- Merck's leading
DPP4-inhibitor -- that would extend the Januvia franchise even
further and help Merck," Purkiss said.
"And the beauty of this from Pfizer's perspective is they
will be piggybacking on Merck's (Januvia) franchise and are also
getting a contribution from Merck for the Phase 3 program,"
Pfizer has so far received $60 million in upfront and
milestone payments from Merck under the ertugliflozin
partnership and will be eligible for additional payments
associated with clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones.
Merck and Pfizer will share potential revenue and certain
costs on a 60/40 percent basis, the U.S. companies said.
Merck will continue to retain the rights to its existing
portfolio of Januvia-containing products.
Purkiss said it was too early to speculate on potential
sales of ertugliflozin, and whether it has blockbuster
potential, because analysts have not yet seen clinical data from
Shares of Merck were up 0.36 percent, while Pfizer's rose
1.5 percent, both in afternoon trading on the New York Stock
Exchange, amid a 1 percent gain for the ARCA Pharmaceutical
Index of large U.S. and European drugmakers.