Merck KGaA has been busy this week, signing a pact with Bristol-Myers Squibb for the promotion of Glucophage in China, and entering a strategic alliance with Nordic Bioscience for the development of sprifermin for osteoarthritis of the knee.

As per the terms of its deal with B-MS, the two groups will co-promote the Merck-discovered diabetes drug Glucophage (metformin hydrochloride) in China under a profit-sharing arrangement, to help the drug gain a bigger slice of the burgeoning diabetes market.

Glucophage has been marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb-SASS in China since 1999, but now Merck and B-MS plan to utilise their existing resources and complementary strengths to expand the geographic distribution of the drug, in different formulations, and provide diabetes-related health and medical information to healthcare professionals.

"The combined promotion efforts of the two companies will help reach more patients in urban and rural communities who have had less access to treatment and who can benefit from metformin, an established standard of care for treating Type II diabetes,” said Jean-Christophe Pointeau, President of Bristol-Myers Squibb China.

Diabetes is a huge problem in China, with more than 90 million people suffering from the disease and more than 60% of patients remaining undiagnosed, possibly due to a disastrous combination of poor public awareness and limited opportunities for diagnosis, leaving significant opportunity to improve management of the disease.

Further terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the companies did say that they plan to launch in China an extended release form of the drug - Glucophage XR - "in the near future".

Nordic alliance

Elsewhere, the German drugmaker said it has signed up Nordic Bioscience Clinical Development A/S to help develop its investigational drug sprifermin (recombinant human FGF-18) in osteoarthritis of the knee.

Under the terms of the agreement, Danish group Nordic Bioscience will provide clinical development services to Merck on a "shared-risk basis", in exchange for a payment structure that includes service fees and potential milestones and royalties.

Merck will remain responsible for the development and commercialisation of the drug, but financial specifics of the collaboration were not disclosed.

The companies are intending to pool their expertise and resources into a multinational Phase IIb trial - the FORWARD study, expected to being enrolment later this year - which will further evaluate sprifermin for inhibition of the progression of structural damage, reduction of pain and improvement of physical function in patients with OA of the knee, they said.