Merck Acquiring Cladribine as Potential Generalized MG Treatment

Yedida Y Bogachkov PhD avatar

by Yedida Y Bogachkov PhD |

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Merck KGaA has acquired Chord Therapeutics and the rights to continue developing CRD1 (cladribine), Chord’s lead candidate for treatment of generalized myasthenia gravis.

“I am particularly pleased that Chord’s focus on severe, rare neurological conditions will be complemented by Merck’s established leadership with cladribine,” Arthur Roach, founder and director of Chord Therapeutics, said in a press release.

Merck KGaA, known as EMD Serono in North America, markets Mavenclad, a short-course oral tablet form of cladribine approved to treat active and relapsing forms multiple sclerosis. Cladribine is also approved to treat select blood cancers.

“The very substantial synergies that will result [from the acquisition] have the potential to create important new treatment options for patients,” Roach said.

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Generalized MG (gMG) is a neuromuscular condition triggered by an autoimmune response that causes muscles throughout the body to weaken.

Cladribine is designed to affect a patient’s immune system. It works by selectively killing off lymphocytes or specific types of white blood cells, including T- and B-cells.

This effect is long lasting, particularly on memory B-cells — the cells responsible for “remembering” viruses and bacteria, allowing the body to rapidly mount an immune response when it next comes into contact with those particular threats.

A pilot study in 13 people with refractory (difficult-to-treat) gMG found significant clinical improvement with cladribine’s use, as measured by the Myasthenia Gravis Composite scale. Merck intends to advance an oral form of cladribine to potentially treat gMG.

“Cladribine has a unique mechanism of action which is relevant in antibody-mediated disease such as NMOSD [neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder] and gMG,” said Danny Bar-Zohar, MD, head of global development for the biopharma business of Merck.

“In exploratory studies, cladribine demonstrated promising results in these diseases. These data have prompted us to initiate further development with cladribine in gMG and NMOSD to potentially bring a new therapeutic option to patients and expand our portfolio in this area,” Bar-Zohar added.

Chord was launched in October 2020 with the help of Omega Funds, a healthcare venture capital fund.

“I am very pleased with Chord’s progress over the last year since our launch. I am grateful to Omega Funds for their support and financing, and for sharing our vision of the potential of cladribine in NMOSD and gMG,” said Tom Plitz, CEO of Chord. “We are thrilled that our work is now continued by Merck and delighted with this opportunity to considerably accelerate the development to bring this drug to patients in need faster.”

The acquisition is expected to close in early 2022.