Merck Acquires NovaCardia
The deal adds more clout to the pharmaceutical heavyweight's cardiovascular pipeline
By Joanna Cosgrove
Merck & Co., of Whitehouse Station, NJ, recently announced that it will acquire San Diego, CA-based NovaCardia, Inc., a privately held clinical-stage pharmaceutical company focused on cardiovascular diseases, for $350 million. The acquisition gives Merck access to NovaCardia's adenosine A1 receptor antagonist, KW-3902, an Phase III compound for use in patients with acute congestive heart failure (CHF).
According to Merck's Richard Kender, vice president of business development and corporate licensing, the acquisition furthers the company's aspiration to deliver on its strategy of targeted acquisitions in areas of "unmet medical need in the therapeutic areas of strategic importance for Merck," one of which is cardiovascular diseases.
Ron Rogers, a spokesman for Merck, said cardiovascular health is an important market of interest to the company. "Merck's cardiovascular strategy has been mainly focused on atherosclerosis and hypertension, but the company is interested in expanding its focus in disease areas of significant unmet medical need such as congestive heart failure," he said. "KW-3902 has potential to address serious unmet medical needs among patients and payers, while providing Merck's shareholders with an acceptable return on investment."
KW-3902 is believed to block adenosine-mediated constriction of blood flow to the kidneys and inhibit reabsorption of salt and water by the kidney, thereby increasing urine volume and maintaining renal function in patients with CHF. To date, no other vasodilator has demonstrated the selective renal vasodilation attribute of KW-3902 that helps preserve renal function. As renal function deteriorates in patients with CHF, higher doses of diuretics are required in order to reduce fluid overload. Multiple studies have demonstrated that renal dysfunction is a strong independent predictor of worse short- and long-term outcomes in patients with CHF.
NovaCardia recently presented preliminary results from a pilot Phase III trial of KW-3902 at a late-breaking session of the European Society of Cardiology's Heart Failure Congress 2007 that indicated a strong trend toward efficacy for the 30 milligram dose. Patients treated with KW-3902 experienced a higher rate of improvement in dyspnea, or shortness of breath, which is a common symptom of CHF, compared to the placebo group, and KW-3902 also enhanced diuresis and mitigated deterioration of renal function that is often experienced by patients undergoing standard treatment. Two Phase III trials, PROTECT 1 and PROTECT 2, are currently enrolling participants in the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel and Russia. NovaCardia in-licensed KW-3902 from Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co., Ltd., in 2003.
"NovaCardia demonstrated the potential of KW-3902 in clinical trials, and we believe that Merck can expedite the development of this novel agent," commented Randall E. Woods, president and chief executive officer at NovaCardia.
Mr. Rogers explained that NovaCardia represents the most recent step in Merck's collaborative external research plan and acquisition strategy. Previous examples include Rosetta Inpharmatics in 2001, Aton Pharma in 2004; and GlycoFi, Abmaxis; and Sirna Therapeutics in 2006.