Merck Buys Cough Drug Developer for $1.25B

The acquisition of Afferent Pharmaceuticals gives Merck access to a drug candidate for treating neurogenic conditions including chronic cough.
Katie Kuehner-HebertJune 10, 2016

Merck has agreed to acquire Afferent Pharmaceuticals for up to $1.25 billion, adding a drug candidate for treating neurogenic conditions including chronic cough to its portfolio.

Silicon Valley-based Afferent reported last month that its lead investigational candidate, AF-219, significantly reduced cough frequency in a study of chronic cough patients. Another of the drugs it is developing, AF-130, also targets the P2X3 receptor to treat neurogenic conditions.

Merck is paying $500 million upfront for privately-held Afferent in its largest deal for more than a year, with another $750 million due if Afferent reaches certain clinical development and commercial milestones for its drugs, including AF-219. There are currently no approved therapies for the treatment of chronic cough.

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“Afferent has pioneered the clinical development of novel investigational candidates selectively targeting the P2X3 receptor, an exciting area of research,” Merck Research Laboratories’ president Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter said in a news release. “We look forward to advancing these innovative molecules for patients with conditions like chronic cough, an area of significant unmet medical need.”

Merck’s other recent acquisitions include the January purchase of cancer-focused IOmet Pharma for up to $400 million. A year earlier, it acquired Cubist Pharmaceuticals for $8.3 billion to expand its antibiotics portfolio.

“Biotech deals have been abundant, with big drug companies refreshing their portfolios as patents expire for older products,” the Wall Street Journal said, noting that Merck’s recent financial results have been hurt by generic versions of Remicade, a treatment for inflammatory diseases, and allergy-symptom treatment Nasonex.

Afferent was founded in 2009 when it licensed Roche Holding AG’s P2X3i receptor program and raised $23 million in Series A financing. At the time, AF-219 was in development as a treatment for chronic pain.

Chronic cough (a cough lasting more than eight weeks) is estimated to affect about 10% of adults in the U.S. In a trial of AF-219, about half of the patients who took a low dosage showed at least a 50% reduction in coughing.

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