Merrimack lung cancer study flops, sending stock sliding

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Dive Brief:

  • Merrimack Pharmaceuticals announced Friday its leading drug candidate failed to show a benefit in an interim data analysis of a Phase 2 trial testing the therapy in non-small cell lung cancer, leading the biotech to end the study.
  • The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company had hoped its monoclonal antibody MM-121, in combination with docetaxel, would improve progression-free survival rates in patients with heregulin positive non-small cell lung cancer. Review by a data safety monitoring board, however, found the combination didn't improve PFS versus docetaxel alone.
  • Merrimack's share price slipped 30% upon market open Friday to roughly $3.50, suggesting investors have lost faith in a company that peaked in 2015 when share prices hit more than $130.

Dive Insight:

In January 2017, Merrimack sold the rights to its pancreatic cancer drug Onivyde (irinotecan liposome injection) to the French drugmaker Ipsen for $575 million upfront, cutting staff by 80% and pivoting to focus on three pipeline assets.

One of those three, MM-141, failed in Phase 2 testing in untreated metastatic pancreatic cancer earlier this year. Now, the second of that group has fallen short, limiting the company's path forward once again.

The initial findings from MM-121 in lung cancer appeared pretty clear cut.

"The data provide a definitive signal that MM-121 does not improve clinical outcomes for patients with non-small cell lung cancer," Merrimack CEO Richard Peters said in an Oct. 19 statement.

MM-121 remains in one other Phase 2 trial for metastatic breast cancer that's still enrolling, while the third pipeline asset, MM-310, is being evaluated in a Phase 1 study for solid tumors.

Peters said the company would take a close look at the MM-121 data to evaluate the company's pipeline more broadly.

Merrimack will need a swift change of fate if it hopes to stay competitive in the years to come. The company expects its cash on hand will be able to fund operations through the first quarter of 2020

As of the end of January 2018, the company had 72 full-time employees with 48 involved in research and development, according to an annual company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company said it will provide a pipeline update along with its third quarter earnings results in a call with investors set for Nov. 7.


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