Merck signs $3 billion deal for eye disease biotech backed by Kate Bingham

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US pharmaceutical group Merck has agreed to buy EyeBio, a startup backed by British venture capitalist Kate Bingham, for up to $3 billion, as the maker of the world’s best-selling drug looks to replenish its portfolio of treatments.

The deal for EyeBio, whose drugs in development treat common eye diseases, will come in the form of an upfront payment of $1.3 billion, with another $1.7 billion contingent on reaching certain milestones, Bingham and EyeBio’s CEO said. David Guyer, to the Financial Times.

Bingham, who led the UK government’s vaccine taskforce during the coronavirus pandemic, said EyeBio’s lead drug “could revolutionize the treatment of patients with diabetic macular edema and age-related macular disease, which are the main forms of blindness in the Western world”. The drug, reinstatement, is in the early stages of trials.

For Merck, restort would help boost its portfolio as it prepares for a projected drop in sales by 2029 when its blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda goes off patent. Bingham said the drug had the potential to generate several billion dollars in peak sales.

The US pharmaceutical group had already spent more than $20 billion on business development since early last year, including $10.8 billion on immunology biotech Prometheus Biosciences, as it prepares for Keytruda sales to peak at $33 billion. dollars projected in 2028.

“We believe that to accelerate development and get this important potential drug to patients with these diseases as soon as possible, let’s partner with . . . Merck made a lot of sense,” Guyer said.

Merck, known as MSD in Europe, declined to comment.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the Western world, while diabetic macular edema (DME) is the vision loss suffered by people with diabetes. Both occur when blood vessels leak into the back of the eye, causing a buildup of fluid that causes blurred vision and blindness.

EyeBio’s drug is a monthly injection that restores the strength of the blood-retinal barrier and stops leaks. Early reinstatement data released in February showed the treatment could improve the vision of AMD and DME patients in an eye test and reduce the thickness of edema, prompting a surge in interest in the company from potential buyers. Bingham said.

“Virtually all patients showed great improvement. Many of these eyes had edema that disappeared and in many cases led to a normalized retina,” Guyer said. “That’s something that never happens. . . “This is a form of regenerative and restorative medicine.”

Guyer said more data was needed to determine whether the drug could challenge or be used in combination with AMD drugs developed by Bayer and Genentech, which work in different ways. Merck will advance the treatment through late-stage trials in both areas of the disease.

Founded in 2021 by Guyer and Anthony Adamis, EyeBio received seed funding from SV Health Investors, the life sciences venture capital fund run by Bingham. She serves as president of EyeBio, while Merck was an early investor in 2022 through its venture fund.

EyeBio has raised just $130 million since its founding in 2021. “To end up with $1.3 billion up front in less than two years is amazing,” Bingham said.

Guyer, who also founded Iveric Bio, which Japan’s Astellas bought for $5.9 billion last August, said EyeBio had another treatment in an earlier stage of development that could be complementary to reinstatement. He and Adamis plan to remain at EyeBio to continue developing the treatment.

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