Merck & Co. is paying AiCuris €110 million (about $142 million) up front for exclusive global rights to the latter’s portfolio of human cytomegalovirus (CMV)-targeting candidates, including lead orally administered drug letermovir (AIC246), which has successfully completed a Phase IIb trial for treating and preventing CMV infection in transplant patients. Under terms of this first development deal for AiCuris, the German firm could receive development, regulatory, and commercialization milestone payments of up to €334.5 million (roughly $433 million), plus additional sales royalties. The pipeline acquired by Merck includes letermovir, an additional backup drug, and other Phase II-stage CMV candidates designed to act via a different mechanism.

Letermovir is a quinazoline-derived drug designed to inhibit the CMV viral terminase. It has been granted orphan drug designation in the EU, and orphan drug and fast-track development status in the U.S. Positive data from a Phase IIb study evaluating the drug in CMV-seropositive bone marrow transplant patients were reported in April.

AiCuris was established in 2006 as a spin-out from Bayer HealthCare’s anti-infectives unit, and is focused on the discovery and development of antiviral and antibacterial drugs. The firm’s preclinical and clinical pipeline includes candidates against CMV, HSV, HIV, hepatitis B and C, and nosocomial infections. Partners/licensees are being sought for a Phase III-ready HSV compound (AIC316), and two immune modulator programs, one targeting viral hepatitis B and C and fibrosis, and the other against autoimmune diseases. 

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