Merck & Co set to be superbug-busting superstar despite US Cubicin ruling, analyst

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Merck & Co set to lead fight against MRSA through Cubist buy, depsite US Cubicin patent ruling
Merck & Co set to lead fight against MRSA through Cubist buy, depsite US Cubicin patent ruling

Related tags Big pharma Antibiotic resistance

Cubist will give Merck & Co leadership of the antibiotics sector according to one analyst who says renewed interest expressed by GSK, Roche and Sanofi has not produced any Ph III candidates.

Merck & Co's announcement it would buy Cubist for $8.4bn was followed on Tuesday by its confirmation the deal will proceed despite a US Court invalidating​ patents for Cubicin (daptomycin).

Merck said the ruling – which will likely see Hospira launch a generic Cubicin rival in 2016 – had not made it reconsider buying Cubist, arguing that the deal “will provide both incremental and long-term value​” with at least $1bn in additional revenue coming next year.

Another reason for this reaction is the fact Merck & Co and Cubist had already agreed the Hospira suit was not grounds to pull out of the deal in the merger agreement according to ISI Group's Mark Schoenebaum.

Antibiotic aspirations

Merck’s confidence in its future standing in the antibiotics sector is well placed according to GlobalData analyst Christopher Pace who told in-Pharmatechnologist.com the deal will “quickly catapult the US pharmaceutical giant into a leading position in the antibiotics space.”

Cubist possesses three marketed antimicrobial agents Cubicin, Dificid, and Sivextro along with a healthy late-stage pipeline, which includes promising agents with activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative drug-resistant pathogens.”

The two late stage assets - surotomycin and combined ceftolozane and tazobactam – have demonstrated promise in Phase III studies (here​ and here​) as treatments for infections by the superbug, Clostridium Difficile​. 

Pace also said that: “This deal also aligns well with Merck’s global initiative to strengthen its acute hospital care business, with a particular focus on therapeutic areas of high unmet medical need​.”

Big Pharma interest

Up until recently, Big Pharma interest in antibiotics was low for largely commercial reasons according to some observers​. Swiss drugmaker Roche, for example, stopped developing antibiotics in 1999 when it abandoned anti-infectives research (page 68) and focused on more lucrative medicines.

In the past few years, however, the situation has changed with Big Pharma companies expressing interest in developing new antibiotics to both address the growing threat of bacterial resistance and refill pipelines.

Roche followed its subsidiary Genentech​ back into antibiotics research last November in a deal with Polyphor​ that followed a year after GSK said it would commit to antibacterial R&D.

More recently, French Big Pharma firm Sanofi​ said it would work with German contract research organisation (CRO) Fraunhofer to try and identify new antibiotic compounds in nature.

But despite this renewed interest from rivals, Merck & Co is going to be the biggest player in the market after the Cubist takeover is completed according to Pace.

In the short-term Merck is well-positioned to be a market leader with this deal. While GSK, Roche, and Sanofi have certainly announced their intentions to invest in antibiotic R&D, not one of these three companies currently possesses a Phase III pipeline candidate.

Roche and GSK both possess investigational antibiotics that are in Phase II of clinical development, while Sanofi’s candidates are in earlier stages of development.”

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