Merck Announces Collaboration With Nordic Bioscience for Sprifermin in Osteoarthritis of the Knee

  • Strategic partnership to focus on development and execution of Phase IIb clinical trial program
  • Phase IIb FORWARD study in osteoarthritis of the knee expected to start enrollment in second half of 2013

Darmstadt, Germany, March 18, 2013 – Merck today announced a strategic alliance with Nordic Bioscience Clinical Development A/S on Merck’s investigational drug sprifermin (recombinant human FGF-18) in osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. This agreement underscores Merck’s commitment to osteoarthritis research and development.

Under the terms of the agreement, Nordic Bioscience will provide clinical development services to Merck on a shared-risk basis in exchange for a payment structure that includes service fees and potential milestone and royalty payments on the program. Merck retains full responsibility for the development and commercialization of the investigational drug. Financial terms of the collaboration were not disclosed.
The alliance will draw on the joint expertise and resources of Merck and Nordic Bioscience to conduct a multi-national Phase IIb trial (the FORWARD study) to further evaluate sprifermin for inhibition of the progression of structural damage, reduction of pain and improvement of physical function in patients with OA of the knee. The FORWARD study is expected to begin enrollment in the second half of 2013.

“Building and executing innovative partnerships that optimize and complement Merck Serono’s capabilities and facilitate the balancing of risk across the pipeline is a core element of the company’s overall development strategy,” said Susan Herbert, Executive Vice President of Global Business Development and Strategy for the Merck Serono division. “Nordic Bioscience Clinical Development’s deep expertise in osteoarthritis and proven track record of specialist trial recruitment will enable us to effectively and efficiently move to the next stage of clinical evaluation for sprifermin.”

Claus Christiansen, Founder and Chairman of Nordic Bioscience, commented: “Partnering with Merck allows us to utilize our clinical trial and biomarker expertise within musculoskeletal diseases on an exciting investigational drug such as sprifermin and with a well-known sponsor such as Merck. We specialize in and believe in this type of partnering.”

Sprifermin, a protein thought to induce chondrocyte stimulation leading to matrix synthesis and chondrocyte renewal, is delivered by intra-articular injection. Two phase I trials in moderate/severe OA of the knee were previously completed; a Phase II trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety in patients with cartilage injury of the knee is currently ongoing. The program was originally in-licensed in 2004 from ZymoGenetics, a Bristol-Myers Squibb company.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 5% of adults over 40 in developed countries, or more than 30 million people, suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee.
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Merck is a leading company for innovative and top-quality high-tech products in the pharmaceutical, chemical and life science sectors. With its four divisions Merck Serono, Consumer Health, Performance Materials and Merck Millipore, Merck generated total revenues of € 11.1 billion in 2013. Around 39,000 Merck employees work in 66 countries to improve the quality of life for patients, to further the success of customers and to help meet global challenges. Merck is the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company – since 1668, the company has stood for innovation, business success and responsible entrepreneurship. Holding an approximately 70 percent interest, the founding family remains the majority owner of the company to this day. Merck, Darmstadt, Germany is holding the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are Canada and the United States, where the company is known as EMD.

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