Merck expands hematology portfolio through US$1.35bn Imago takeover

USA— Merck has signed a definitive agreement for the acquisition of all outstanding shares of Imago BioSciences, through a subsidiary, for US$36.00 per share in cash or for a total equity price of nearly US$1.35 billion.

A clinical-stage biopharmaceutical firm, Imago focuses on the development of new therapies to treat myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and other bone marrow ailments.

Myeloproliferative neoplasms are a group of diseases of the bone marrow characterized by excessive production of red blood cells, platelets, or certain white blood cells.

The lead candidate of the company bomedemstat (IMG-7289) is an investigational, orally available inhibitor of lysine-specific demethylase 1 (LSD1).

Bomedemstat is currently being studied in a number of Phase II clinical trials for the treatment of myelofibrosis, essential thrombocythemia (a disease of too many platelets), and polycythemia vera (a disease of too many red blood cells) among other indications.

The Imago takeover will extend the growing hematology portfolio of Merck. Meanwhile, Imago recently finished enrolling patients in a Phase 2 trial of bomedemstat as a monotherapy for advanced myelofibrosis (MF —rare cancer that can damage bone marrow.

The company’s website states that discussions with the US FDA about the endpoints and control arm for a Phase 3 pivotal program in MF are currently underway.

Merck president and CEO Robert Davis said: “This acquisition of Imago augments our pipeline and strengthens our presence in the growing field of hematology.”

As per the deal, the acquisition subsidiary of Merck will be merged into Imago following closing. The acquisition is anticipated to conclude in the first quarter of next year.

The agreement follows a strategy pursued by Merck CEO Robert Davis since taking over in 2021. He has been an aggressive dealmaker in order to prepare for the loss of revenue when the company’s blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda’s patents expire in 2028.

Merck paid US$11.5 billion for Acceleron last year in exchange for sotatercept, a cancer drug. Moderna, Orion, and Orna Therapeutics have recently signed licensing and partnership agreements with the company.

Earlier this year, the company reportedly courted cancer biotech Seagen, but talks broke down over the price of the deal.

Davis’ leadership role at Merck will expand further when he takes over as chairman of the company’s board on December 1.

Merck’s other hematological purchases include VelosBio for US$2.75 billion in cash in November 2020.

That acquisition handed Merck a Phase 1 antibody-drug conjugate that targets the receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor 1 (ROR1).

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