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Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK - Analyst Report) recently announced the in-licensing of Xenon Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s small molecule compounds for a novel target to treat cardiovascular disease.

Merck and Xenon’s agreement dates back to 2009 when the companies entered into a strategic alliance to discover and develop novel small molecule candidates for the potential treatment of cardiovascular disease. Merck was given an option to license novel discoveries from this collaboration.

As per the agreement, Xenon is eligible to receive payments of up to $86.5 million on the achievement of research, development and regulatory milestones. Additionally, Xenon will receive royalties on sales of products commercialized as a result of the collaboration.

Currently marketed drugs for the treatment of cardiovascular disease in Merck’s portfolio are Zetia and Vytorin. Global sales of Zetia and Vytorin in 2012 were $2.6 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively.

Merck’s cardiovascular pipeline includes candidates like MK-0859, anacetrapib, a cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitor which is being developed for cholesterol management.  

Merck has started a large, event-driven cardiovascular clinical study REVEAL (Randomized EValuation of the Effects of Anacetrapib Through Lipid-modification), which enrolled patients with preexisting vascular disease which is expected to complete in 2017. Merck expects to file a New Drug Application (NDA) with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after 2015.

Merckcarries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Currently, companies like Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. (VRTX - Analyst Report), Cleveland BioLabs, Inc. and Transcept Pharmaceuticals, Inc. look more attractive in the pharma space. All three stocks carry a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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