Doubling down in diabetes

Merck shoring up slowing diabetes franchise with Pfizer, Abide deals

Against a backdrop of flattening sales of its only marketed diabetes drugs and a new class of oral drugs - SGLT2s - entering the market from competitors, Merck & Co. Inc. appears to be shoring up its position.

Last Monday, Merck and Pfizer Inc. announced they will co-develop and co-commercialize Pfizer's ertugliflozin, plus fixed-dose combinations of the oral sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor with metformin and with Merck's Januvia sitagliptin, a dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitor.

This year, the partners plan to begin Phase III testing of ertugliflozin and the combination products to treat Type II diabetes.

Three days later, Merck announced a deal with Abide Therapeutics Inc. to discover, develop and commercialize small molecules against three serine hydrolase targets to treat metabolic diseases, with a focus on Type II diabetes.

The deals are Merck's first for any diabetes compounds since 2010, and the Pfizer collaboration is the first late-stage diabetes deal for Merck since 2004, when it licensed rights to co-develop Pargluva muraglitazar from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

Strong start

In early 2005, Merck was poised to enter the market with the first DPP-4 inhibitor as well as an improved version of the then-blockbuster PPAR class of oral diabetes drugs.

Pargluva, a dual peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) alpha and gamma inhibitor, was in registration. Januvia was in Phase III testing, and the company's 10-K

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