Merck bolsters oncology pipeline with $2.75B deal for Calif. biopharma firm

Merck is paying $2.75 billion for VelosBio Inc., a privately held clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on cancer therapies, the Kenilworth-based drugmaker announced Thursday.

Through a subsidiary, Merck will acquire all outstanding shares of the San Diego-based VelosBio in an all-cash deal, it said in a news release. The value is subject to certain adjustments, Merck noted.

Roger Perlmutter. (File photo)

“At Merck, we continue to bolster our growing oncology pipeline with strategic acquisitions that both complement our current portfolio and strengthen our long-term growth potential,” Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a prepared statement. “Pioneering work by VelosBio scientists has yielded VLS-101, which in early studies has provided notable evidence of activity in heavily pretreated patients with refractory hematological malignancies, including mantel cell lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.”

VelosBio’s lead candidate, VLS-101, is an antibody-drug conjugate targeting receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor 1 for the treatment of hematologic malignancies and solid tumors, including breast and lung cancers.

“Merck is a recognized leader in oncology, and this acquisition reflects the hard work and commitment of all the employees at VelosBio in advancing the science of ROR1,” founder and CEO Dave Johnson said in a statement. “We are very pleased that Merck has recognized the value of our first-in-class ROR1-directed investigational therapeutics. As part of Merck’s oncology pipeline, our lead product candidate, VLS-101, is now well-positioned to achieve its maximum potential to benefit appropriate cancer patients in need.”

The transaction is expected to close by year-end, pending customary conditions and approvals.

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP was Merck’s legal adviser, while J.P. Morgan Securities LLC was its financial adviser. Cooley LLP was VelosBio’s legal adviser and Centerview Partners LLC was its financial adviser.