Merck & Co. adds ROR1-targeting drugs via deal to buy VelosBio

Merck & Co. entered into a definitive agreement to acquire VelosBio for $2.75 billion in cash, strengthening its oncology portfolio with the addition of the experimental antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) VLS-101, the companies announced Thursday. VLS-101 targets ROR1 and is currently being evaluated in clinical trials for the treatment of patients with haematologic malignancies and solid tumours.

"We continue to bolster our growing oncology pipeline with strategic acquisitions that both complement our current portfolio and strengthen our long-term growth potential," remarked Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories. The executive noted that in early studies, VLS-101 "has provided notable evidence of activity in heavily pretreated patients with refractory haematological malignancies, including mantel cell lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma."

Upcoming ASH data

Last month, the first patient was dosed in a Phase II study of VLS-101 for the treatment of solid tumours, including breast cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer. Meanwhile, results from a Phase I trial to be presented at next month's American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting showed that VLS-101 resulted in objective clinical responses, including complete responses, in 47% of 15 patients with mantle cell lymphoma and 80% of five subjects with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Merck said VelosBio, which raised $137 million via a Series B financing in July, is also developing a preclinical pipeline of next-generation ADCs and bispecific antibodies targeting ROR1 "with the potential to complement VLS-101 by offering alternative methods of tumour cell killing." The purchase is expected to close by the end of 2020.

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