Mike Sherman, the chief financial officer at West Lafayette-based Endocyte Inc., talked about how the drug firm’s funding partnership with New Jersey-based Merck & Co. Inc. has helped accelerate the company’s pipeline. Endocyte, which employs 80 people, including about 15 in Indianapolis, has applied with European regulators to bring its first drug, vintafolide, to market to treat ovarian cancer. Endocyte is using the same technology that lies behind vintafolide to develop drugs to treat cancers of the lung, breast and prostate.
IBJ: How has your partnership with Merck changed Endocyte’s operations?
A: It brought us not only this financial flexibility. It also brought us an immediate commercial presence on a global basis. Put simply, our financial situation has changed and that has allowed us to do things to accelerate the pipeline. To bring those [drugs] along more quickly is very important to our creating value and our ability to help patients. Had we not done the partnership with Merck, we would have had to move forward on those compounds much less quickly. We were able to accelerate those things by two to three years over what we would have been able to do.
IBJ: Merck recently committed to fund 75 percent of a possible new study of vintafolide and to fund clinical trials of Endocyte's breast cancer drug. What does that say about Endocyte’s potential for commercializing more than one drug?
A: We have been very pleased with not only the level of collaboration, the frequency of collaboration, but also the depth of it. We are really intertwined and attached at the hip on all aspects of the business. Endocyte is a true platform company, a technology that is highly leverageable into not only new therapeutics but new therapeutics with companion diagnostics. [Most of Endocyte’s drugs use an imaging agent that helps identify patients who can benefit from its drugs.]
IBJ: Endocyte expects to hear from European regulators on whether they will OK vintafolide and its companion imaging agent for sale by the end of this year. If it wins approval, Merck will spearhead sales of the drug while Endocyte will build out a sales team for the imaging agent. What impact, if any, will those events have on your Indiana operations?
A: I would expect the Indianapolis office to continue to grow. We’ll keep our science and technical-related positions in West Lafayette. West Lafayette will always be the headquarters, at least for the foreseeable future. But as we bring on commercial activities, they’ll be added at the Indianapolis office. We will be establishing an office in Switzerland that will be our European headquarters.