* Drugs seen as promising include evobrutinib, tepotinib
* Earnings projected to decline, asset sale hits snag
* CEO says “very open” to licensing deals (Adds quotes, context)
DARMSTADT, Germany, March 8 (Reuters) - German drugs and chemicals group Merck KGaA is open to sharing development costs for its mid-stage pharmaceuticals pipeline with external partners, it said on Thursday after flagging a decline in earnings this year.
“We are very open to partnerships ... we are in talks with many players,” Chief Executive Stefan Oschmann told a news conference after the release of fourth-quarter results, pointing in particular to evobrutinib, a so-called BTK inhibitor that suppresses autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
“We have a full, very good pipeline and we have to see how we can finance the development of this pipeline so that it is not a burden on our financial results.”
Merck earlier flagged a fall in operating profit this year, citing Chinese competition in liquid crystals used in flat screens and higher drug development expenses, prompting a more than 5 percent drop in its share price.
The planned sale of its consumer healthcare unit, with proceeds earmarked to fund development work, has hit a snag after sources said that Nestle dropped out of the bidding and prices proposed by remaining suitors fell short of Merck’s expectations.
Other experimental drugs from Merck’s labs that analysts have described as promising include an immuno-oncology drug known as bifunctional fusion protein as well as oral cancer drug tepotinib. (Reporting by Ludwig Burger Editing by David Goodman)