PHARMACY

Merck, Schering-Plough under House investigation over Zetia trial

BY Drew Buono

WASHINGTON The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is investigating Merck and Schering-Plough for their handling of a critical clinical trial of Zetia, a cholesterol-lowering drug that the companies market together, according to the New York Times.

The trial, called Enhance, was completed in 2006, but the results have yet to be released. The Enhance trial covered 720 patients with very high cholesterol and was intended to prove that the combination of Zetia and an older cholesterol medicine would reduce the growth of plaque in the arteries more than the older medicine alone.

Schering and Merck were originally expected to release the results of the trial at a conference in the spring of 2007, then in the fall. Last month, after being criticized by cardiologists, they said they would release the results next March. The companies say the results are still blinded, meaning that they do not know whether the drug succeeded or failed.

In a letter to Merck and Schering, the committee’s top two members, John Dingell, D-Mich. and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., asked officials at both companies to agree to talk to investigators and said both companies should retain important documents about the trial.

The letter asked the companies to provide their records to the committee by Dec. 25.

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GSK inks potential $1.4 billion development deal with OncoMed

BY Drew Buono

LONDON and PHILADELPHIA GlaxoSmithKline and OncoMed Pharmaceuticals have entered into an agreement to discover, develop and market novel antibody therapeutics to target cancer stem cells, which are believed to be key in the metastasis and recurrence of cancer cells.

Under the terms of the deal, OncoMed can earn milestone payments from GSK of up to $1.4 billion, based on the achievement of specified discovery, development, regulatory and commercial milestones. OncoMed will also receive double-digit royalties on all collaboration product sales. In addition, GSK will have an option to invest in a future initial public offering by OncoMed.

Under the partnership, GSK received an option to license four OncoMed product candidates directed at multiple cancer stem cell targets. The alliance with GSK includes OncoMed’s lead antibody product candidate, OMP-21M18, a monoclonal antibody, which is scheduled to enter the clinic in 2008.

“This alliance confirms GSK’s growing status as a world leader in the development of new oncology medicines for use in the treatment, prevention and supportive care of cancer patients and provides us access to an exciting new area of drug discovery. We believe that targeting cancer stem cells has the potential to change the paradigm of how oncology patients are treated and we are very excited to be working with OncoMed to develop novel and innovative medicines in this regard,” said Hugh Cowley, senior vice president and head of the company’s Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery.

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Roche nominates its own candidates for Ventana board

BY Drew Buono

BASEL, Switzerland Roche has been trying to acquire Ventana for about six months and Ventana has called Roche’s offers “grossly inadequate,” according to published reports. Now, Roche has made a move to increase its chances of buying the company.

Roche has nominated four candidates for election to Ventana’s board of directors at its next annual general meeting, scheduled for June.

“We have taken this step, as required by Ventana’s bylaws, because we are committed to pursuing the acquisition of Ventana. However, we continue to prefer a negotiated transaction,” said Franz Humer, chairman and chief executive officer of Roche.

“All of our nominees have proven track records in their areas of expertise and if elected, we are confident that they will act in the best interests of Ventana stockholders by exploring all alternatives for maximizing shareholder value.”

Roche’s offer has been a steady $75 per share, a $13 difference below the price at which the shares are currently trading.

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