Idera Regains Cancer Drug Rights From Germany’s Merck; Stock Climbs

11/30/11Follow @xconomy

Idera Pharmaceuticals looked like it was in a pretty serious bind back in July when its partner, Germany-based Merck KGaA, terminated a collaboration to co-develop an experimental cancer drug. But now Idera is bouncing back a bit today, after saying it has regained global rights to the drug, and plans to continue developing it, even as Merck KGaA winds down its involvement.

Cambridge, MA-based Idera Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IDRA) said today it has gotten back the global rights to IMO-2055 as a cancer drug that stimulates a key player in the innate immune system known as Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9). Under the termination agreement, Merck KGaA will continue to conduct an ongoing mid-stage trial of the Idera treatment in combination with Eli Lilly’s cetuximab (Erbitux) in 104 patients with a form of head and neck cancer. The data from that trial, and other clinical studies that Merck KGaA helped conduct and finance, will belong to Idera.

The smaller company said it plans to reimburse Merck KGaA for about 1.8 million Euros of expenses associated with the mid-stage trial, spread over 12 months, starting in March.

Shares of Idera climbed 14 percent to $1.30 today after the news.

“We believe that regaining our rights to IMO-2055, as well as the rights to the clinical data, will provide us greater flexibility and control in the clinical development of IMO-2055 and the opportunity to pursue new business collaborations,” said Sudhir Agrawal, Idera’s chairman and CEO, in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts made by the Merck KGaA team members in significantly advancing this program.”

Back in July, Idera said that Merck KGaA scrapped its collaboration after seeing patients suffer neutropenia, an excessive drop of infection-fighting white blood cells, when the Idera drug was given in combination with a couple of chemotherapy agents and Erbitux. Idera didn’t say whether that issue was resolved in today’s statement, but the ongoing mid-stage trial is designed to compare the Idera drug plus Erbitux to Erbitux alone, without any chemotherapy combination.

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