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Merck KGaA posts promising osteoarthritis data

Published on 06/11/17 at 12:24pm

Merck KGaA’s share price is 7% down over the course of the year – a year that, on the pharmaceutical side, many would consider to be an unusually strong period. It managed to bring through an immunotherapy treatment, in Bavencio, and also gained approval for Mavenclad, a treatment for MS.

There still remains a concern that the company does not have enough focus on its pharmaceutical business and that it is not productive enough when it comes to bringing new drugs through the clinic – despite two major approvals this year already.

That’s why it is keen to point to Phase 2 data of its osteoarthritis treatment as a sign that it does have the R&D clout to maintain a strong pipeline of treatments.

In Phase 2 trials, the treatment was able to display a 0.05 mm increase in cartilage thickness – meeting the primary endpoint of the trial and potentially opening up a new treatment in a huge market.

237 million people living with osteoarthritis and treatments are not able to prevent or slow disease progression. If Merck can show in Phase 3 trials that the treatment is able to achieve either of these, the company could have a key drug on its hands to drive growth. Beyond that, it would have the goods to back up its claims to be a serious R&D operation.

“We are highly encouraged by the results of the FORWARD trial, in which sprifermin showed an increase in cartilage thickness in patients with osteoarthritis,” said Luciano Rossetti, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Research & Development at the biopharma business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “We remain steadfast in our resolve to bring new therapies to areas of high unmet medical need such as this, and these Phase 2 data are a testament to our commitment.”

Merck’s renewed commitment to its pharmaceutical arm can be seen in its plan to divest its consumer healthcare unit. A move that could generate around €4 billion and allow it to focus its efforts on its pharmaceutical business.

Ben Hargreaves

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