Merck & Co: Gregory Wiederrecht. Taking new initiatives to ensure leading innovations and solutions for tomorrow




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Video title: Merck & Co: Gregory Wiederrecht. Taking new initiatives to ensure leading innovations and solutions for tomorrow
Released on: January 11, 2013. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed at AusBio 2012 in Melbourne, Australia, Fintan Walton talks to Gregory Wiederrecht, Vice President, Worldwide Licensing & Acquisitions at Merck
Merck's new early state intiatives
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here at AusBiotech in Melbourne, in 2012. On this show I have Greg Wiederrecht, who is the Vice President, and Head of External Scientific Affairs at Merck, welcome.
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Thank you Fintan.
Fintan Walton:
Greg, obviously your role is an important one within Merck, it covers licensing, it covers acquisitions, and particularly taking on board some of the initiatives that Merck has taken recently, I suppose we could always look at the pharmaceutical industry, it's tough times for pharma, it's tough times for biotech, so what sort of initiatives has Merck taken to try and influence the changes that are taking place right now?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Well some of the new initiatives that we've taken on recently are of early state initiatives. We started a Merck Research Venture Fund, which is a $285 million fund that's split into two components, a Joint Investment Fund called the JIF, and a direct investment fund. We've completed most of the Joint Investment Fund component to the extent that we have become limited partners with five venture capital companies that are dispersed geographically so that we can access early stage innovations from geographically dispersed regions of the world. Some of these have been announced, some of these venture capital companies have been announced some of them have not been. We don't have any special rights but it gives us a leg up on some of the companies they've invested into, when those companies are ready to partner we are a little better informed. Another initiative that we've got is the Merck initiative in new targets which is to work with leading academics throughout the world to identify and validate new targets for drug discovery. And the last initiative that's new at Merck is the California Institute of Biomedical Research, which is an institution that we are putting about $92 million in over the next seven-years, it's headed up by Professor Peter Schultz who has experience both in academia, as an entrepreneur in founding several biotechnology companies, and he has worked in large pharma and we are going to be providing, he is going to be accessing novel targets from throughout the world and we will validate them and do some lead identification and optimization, and when there is something available to license we will have the first rights to look at it.
Merck's success in innovation in Australia
Fintan Walton:
I suppose in the end the pharmaceutical industry is driven by innovation, finding innovation, funding innovation is a key factor in ultimately getting drugs to market, I suppose those initiatives cross each of those elements both in terms of financing as well as taking novel approach but equally it's stretched across the globe, now here we are here in Australia and Greg why are you in Australia?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Well I am here because there is a fantastic entrepreneurial spirit, plus we've had historical success with innovation in Australia. We've looked, since 2007 we've looked at about 600 opportunities here, this past year we did a deal with Vaxxas [PharmaDeals ID = 48986], which has a Nanopatchdrug delivery technology for vaccines, and we announced earlier this year a major deal with them for an undisclosed vaccine to test the technology for that vaccine and historically we've had great success in Queensland, in the University of Queensland in particular were we have licensed significant intellectual property that allowed us to develop Gardasil, which is doing very well, first-in-class HPV vaccine.
Merck Venture Fund and strategic importance of funds
Fintan Walton:
Right, obviously with the, with let's say for an example the venture funds that have been developed by major pharmaceutical companies that's an important initiative, because it obviously it puts money out there to biotech companies, what are your expectations for the results from setting up the Merck Venture Fund?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Well the purpose of the fund is to access early innovation because it's very, it's been very tough on the venture capital companies, many of them have gravitated to later stage opportunities, and so and fewer on the very early stage opportunities because it's a very high risk and takes them a very long time to recover their investments. So it's an ecological niche I think that big pharma can fill and several big pharma companies have these funds, we are investing ours in early stage innovation.
Fintan Walton:
And I guess I suppose part of my question is really is how important is it strategically for Merck to have these funds?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
That's very important strategically because we do not, in terms of early stage innovation we cannot hire, possibly hire all the biologists we need to look at every single novel target and investigate every single novel opportunity. We are maintaining, Merck unlike many big pharma companies, we are maintaining a very large R&D budget, it's about 8 billion a year, it's not diminishing. So we are continuing to rely upon our internal research but still it's impossible to do everything particularly in the early stage. So we are spreading our bets around and we will give guidance to these venture capital companies for the types of companies they should invest in, they are not obligated to take our advice, hopefully they will, and we are also available to give guidance to the companies that they invest in to help them design experiments that will be designed in such a manner to be attractive or interpretable by any large pharma that they care to pedal it to, hopefully it will be us.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and the direct funds come as a result of the interactions at your licensing side?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
The direct funds, yes, right. The direct funds would be a little bit different. In those, in that fund we would be investing directly into a biotechnology company. So we will see which strategy works, whether the joint investment fund strategy works or the direct investments fund strategy works better.
Merck Initiative on New Target(MINT)- operational framework
Fintan Walton:
Sure. Looking at MINT, this The Merck Initiative On New Targets, what is that initiative and what, how does that actually operate and what's the framework in which that can reveal new targets?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Well we started on that initiative because again we cannot possibly hire enough biologists to look at every new target in every therapeutic area. So our scientists are constantly patrolling the literature for candidate targets that could be of interest but they are not yet validated. They are networking with leading academics around the world and we are working with those academics to take some of the most promising targets and validate them, and they are structured in such a manner that there is a reward for the academic and the academic institution should there be a success.
Fintan Walton:
And then the other initiative you've talked about which is the California Institute for Biomedical Research, that's obviously funded by Merck and that is the institute that will actually take some of these novel targets and bring them, do further research into them?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Yes, they it's kind of an independent, it can interact with Merck, our MINT initiative, but it also can act independently. So you know Peter Schultz is very well known and has his own network, and has a track record of success and he can attract academic investigators or investigators for other institutions who want to validate targets and we can do it there as well, and it will take things a little bit further, it can take things up through a lead optimization, they have their own library, have their own screening facilities.
Deals with AiCuris , Chimerix and Endocyte
Fintan Walton:
So let's just then look at the actual deals that you have been doing, because obviously one of the roles that, and you reside within the Licensing Acquisitions Group within Merck, how is Merck been doing in terms of actually doing deals?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Well as I said we are, our partnering is alive and well, we are doing as much or more licensing than we've done previous years. So this year we've done three clinical stage deals, one with AiCuris [PharmaDeals ID = 49075], on a viral terminase inhibitor for CMV, one with Chimerix [PharmaDeals ID = 47872] on the tenofovir prodrug and a later stage deal with the Endocyte [PharmaDeals ID = 46449] on a folate conjugated to a Vinca alkaloid for delivering oncology agent to a fully over expressing tumors, that's now in Phase III. And then we've done about five earlier stage biotechnology deals, and we've done a few big academic collaborations. So we are on track to do about the 50 highly significant or major deals that we have done every year for the past several years. And as I said our Merck's internal R&D is going to be as robust as ever. We are not diminishing our investment in internal R&D because we want to move, it's successful, we've had some great successes with the cathepsin K inhibitor, which is a result of both partnering and internal research, and we've got our suvorexant that we will file this year for a sleep indication, cathepsin K inhibitor we'll file next year. So some really nice innovative, first-in-class mechanisms, that will hopefully make up for in part for these singular patent expiry.
Fintan Walton:
So the concept of finding early stage research from outside Merck and bringing it into Merck and still work as a successful formula?
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Absolutely.
Fintan Walton:
Greg, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Gregory Wiederrecht:
Thank you for having me.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Gregory Wiederrecht
Vice President
At the time of recording this PTV interview Gregory Wiederrecht serves as Vice President and Head of the External Scientific Affairs, Worldwide Licensing & Acquisitions, at Merck. Dr. Greg Wiederrecht is the Vice President and Head of the External Scientific Affairs department of the Merck Research Laboratories division of Merck & Co Inc., where he has been employed for the past 20 years. External Scientific Affairs is responsible for the scientific assessment of all licensing, partnering, and acquisition opportunities for Merck. Dr. Greg Wiederrecht's responsibilities include the management of a group of 80 scientists and administrators, distributed worldwide and divided by various therapeutic and platform areas, who identify and assess opportunities outside of Merck's walls. Dr. Greg Wiederrecht holds a B.S. degree from the University of California, Irvine and a PhD in biochemistry from M.I.T. Before joining Merck in 1989, he was a Helen Hay Whitney Post-Doctoral Fellow and an American Cancer Society Senior Post-Doctoral Fellow at Caltech.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Merck
Merck & Co Inc., a global health care company, discovers, develops, manufactures, and markets medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and consumer and animal products. The company focuses with wide range of products in Pharmaceutical, Animal health and Consumer health segments. Merck serves drug wholesalers and retailers, hospitals, government agencies, physicians, as well as managed health care providers, such as health maintenance organizations, pharmacy benefit managers, and other institutions. Merck & Co., Inc. was founded in 1891 and is headquartered in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey.