Merck KGaA Buys Chord and Its Oral Cladribine Product for NMOSD

Patricia Inacio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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Merck KGaA will continue to advance CRD1 for the treatment of neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) and generalized myasthenia gravis (gMG), after the company acquired the therapy’s original developer, Chord Therapeutics.

The investigational therapy is an oral cladribine product that works by reducing the number of immune cells, namely B-cells and T-cells, thereby preventing the harmful immune responses seen in NMOSD and gMG. Importantly, it does not suppress the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

“Cladribine has a unique mechanism of action which is relevant in antibody-mediated disease such as NMOSD and gMG,” Danny Bar-Zohar, MD, head of global development for the biopharma business of Merck KGaA (known as EMD Serono in the U.S. and Canada), said in a press release.

Cladribine was first developed as an anti-cancer therapy, but Merck KGaA pioneered its use for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Marketed as Mavenclad, the oral MS therapy is given in two treatment cycles with a one-year interval.

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With the recent acquisition, Merck KGaA will leverage its expertise from prior cladribine trials to further develop oral CRD1 for the treatment of NMOSD and gMG, an autoimmune disorder in which the communication between nerve cells and muscles is impaired.

A recent study involving NMOSD patients with antibodies against the aquaporin water channel — the most common driver of the disease — showed that oral cladribine significantly lowered the number of relapses per year by about 80%, from 1.04 to 0.21.

“In exploratory studies, cladribine demonstrated promising results in these diseases,” Bar-Zohar said. “These data have prompted us to initiate further development with cladribine in gMG and NMOSD to potentially bring a new therapeutic option to patients and expand our portfolio in this area.”

Chord Therapeutics was launched in October 2020 by healthcare venture capital firm Omega Funds.

“I am very pleased with Chord’s progress over the last year since our launch,” said Tom Plitz, CEO of Chord Therapeutics. “I am grateful to Omega Funds for their support and financing, and for sharing our vision of the potential of cladribine in NMOSD and gMG.”

“We are thrilled that our work is now continued by Merck and delighted with this opportunity to considerably accelerate the development to bring this drug to patients in need faster,” he added.

The acquisition is expected to be completed in early 2022, following completion of certain closing conditions.

“I am particularly pleased that Chord’s focus on severe, rare neurological conditions will be complemented by Merck’s established leadership with cladribine in MS,” said Arthur Roach, founder and director of Chord Therapeutics. “The very substantial synergies that will result have the potential to create important new treatment options for patients living with these devastating conditions.”