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Merck Backs Out of Endocyte Vintafolide Deal

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Endocyte, Inc. (ECYT) announced that it has regained worldwide rights to oncology candidate, vintafolide, from Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK). Endocyte received the rights to vintafolide as Merck decided to discontinue its investment in the development of vintafolide, after an extensive assessment of Merck’s portfolio.

We note that vintafolide is in a phase IIb study (:TARGET) for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (:NSCLC). Detailed data from this study is expected in late 2014.

We remind investors that in Apr 2012, Merck had acquired the rights for the development and commercialization of vintafolide for six separate cancer indications.

Our Take

Merck’s decision to discontinue the development of vintafolide does not come as a surprise considering the recent vintafolide-related setbacks.

In May 2014, as recommended by the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (:DSMB), Endocyte and Merck had stopped patient enrollment in a phase III study (:PROCEED) on vintafolide for the treatment of platinum resistant ovarian cancer (:PROC) and withdrew their conditional marketing authorization applications in the EU for vintafolide and companion imaging components.

Endocyte shares were down in pre-market trading on the news regarding the termination of the Merck partnership.

Currently, we have low visibility regarding the future of vintafolide. The market for NSCLC is becoming increasingly competitive. Currently approved drugs for the treatment of NSCLC include Xalkori and Alimta. AbbVie’s (ABBV) veliparib is in phase III studies for the same indication.

Endocyte holds a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). A better-ranked stock in the biotech sector is ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ARIA), carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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