Exclusive: Cancer drugmaker Merrimack explores strategic alternatives - sources

(Reuters) - Pancreatic cancer drug-maker Merrimack Pharmaceuticals MACK.O is working with investment banks on a strategic review that could result in a sale of some of its assets or a licensing deal, people familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

Merrimack will seek to tap the growing interest in cancer treatments amid forecasts that they will be the greatest contributor to drug sale growth in the next five years. Already the largest driver of M&A this year, cancer drugs have caught the eyes of pharmaceutical giants AbbVie Inc ABBV.N and Pfizer Inc PFE.N.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Merrimack has retained investment banks Credit Suisse AG MLPN.P and Bank of America Corp BAC.N for the review, the sources said, asking not to be named because the process is private. There is no guarantee the discussions will result in any deal, they added.

Credit Suisse and Bank of America declined comment and Merrimack could not be immediately reached for comment.

Merrimack is best known for its only commercialized drug, pancreatic cancer treatment Onivyde. The drug, which is in the early stages of selling to the public, is expected by the company to have a market of as much as $800 million.

Merrimack is researching a number of other potential uses for Onivyde, including treatment for breast cancer and pediatric sarcoma.

In 2014, Merrimack entered a licensing agreement with pharmaceutical company Shire PLC SHP.L to develop and sell Onivyde outside of the U.S. Onivyde is currently awaiting approval in the European Union.

Merrimack is looking to expand into cancer drugs outside of Onivyde. It is developing a drug for non-small cell lung cancer that has been fast-tracked for approval by U.S. regulators.

The year's largest acquisition of a cancer drug company was Pfizer Inc PFE.N's $14 billion purchase of prostate cancer company Medivation Inc sale in August. Pfizer beat out a number of interested suitors in the deal, ultimately paying an 118 percent premium to Medivation's undisturbed share price.

In April, drugmaker Abbvie acquired lung cancer company Stemcentrx. In May, cancer company Jazz Pharmaceuticals PLC JAZZ.O acquired smaller peer Celator Pharmaceuticals for $1.5 billion.

Other companies, most notably Tesaro Inc TSRO.O and Clovis Oncology Inc CLVS.O, have been widely speculated as potential takeout targets in the wake of the Medivation deal.

Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott