Immune Design has three drug candidates currently in late-stage clinical development, with its two lead programs targeted within oncology, and three investigational vaccines.
Merck, known as MSD outside of North America, will pay $300m (€264m) in cash to acquire outright the company and its clinical assets.
Merck possesses the biggest selling PD-1 inhibitor, Keytruda (pembrolizumab), an immunotherapy treatment for cancer that has had a significant impact on the treatment of cancer.
Keytruda has already been used in conjunction with Immune Design’s lead asset, G100, in clinical trials. The small synthetic molecule is designed to leverage endogenous antigens and create a systemic immune response in the tumour microenvironment.
More broadly, Immune Design suggests its technology activates the immune system’s ability to generate or expand antigen-specific cytotoxic immune system to fight cancer and other chronic diseases.
In a statement, Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, suggested that growing its immunotherapy portfolio was a major part of the motivation to make the acquisition.
“This acquisition builds upon Merck’s industry-leading programs that harness the power of the immune system to prevent and treat disease,” he explained.
As Keytruda and G100 have already posted successful clinical trials, it suggests that Merck has seen enough value in paying to acquire the proprietary rights to the technology.
In the vaccine space, which comprises three assets within Immune Design’s portfolio, the company has partnered across this section of its portfolio. In particular, it has previously announced that it is working with Sanofi and AstraZeneca on candidates for the treatment of peanut allergies and respiratory syncytial virus, respectively.
Merck announced that it expects the deal to close in the second quarter of 2019.