Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Pharmaceutical company Merck said Monday it will acquire a small, privately-held biotech firm that has developed a promising drug candidate for treating severe cases of COVID-19.
Merck will acquire OncoImmune and its therapeutic coronavirus candidate CD24Fc for $425 million, according to Merck President Roger Perlmutter.
"Recent clinical investigations support the view that CD24Fc may provide benefit beyond standard of care therapy for COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen support, and hence will represent an important addition to the Merck pipeline of investigational medicines and vaccines designed to address the COVID-19 pandemic," Perlmutter said in a statement Monday.
"Meaningful new therapeutic options are desperately needed for possibly millions of people around the world who will develop severe or critical COVID-19 disease."
Rockville, Md.-based OncoImmune, founded by University of Maryland researcher Yang Liu, reported encouraging interim results of a late-stage clinical study of CD24F two months ago. It found that patients with severe COVID-19 who were treated with a single dose of the drug were 60% more likely to improve, compared to a placebo.
The risk of death or respiratory failure was also reduced by more than 50%, OncoImmune said. The company evaluated the drug in more than 200 volunteers.
Perlmutter called the results "remarkable" and said the drug could make a great impact on the coronavirus pandemic with Merck's global reach.
Detailed results for the potential treatment, however, have not yet been peer-reviewed.
The companies said that OncoImmune's other investigational drug candidates will be spun off into a new company, in which Merck will invest $50 million and hold a minority stake.