Cardiome says Merck stops heart drug development, shares slump

Mon Mar 19, 2012 12:00pm EDT
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By Aftab Ahmed

(Reuters) - Cardiome Pharma Corp COM.TO CRME.O said its partner Merck & Co (MRK.N: Quote) dropped the development of an oral version of their drug to treat irregular heart rhythm, sending the biopharmaceutical company's shares down to their life low.

Canada's Cardiome, which develops drugs for diseases of the heart and circulatory system, and Merck were developing an oral version of vernakalant, a drug to treat chronic atrial fibrillation -- a heart rhythm disorder that can lead to stroke and heart failure.

The Canadian company said Merck cited regulatory environment and the expected development timeline for the pull out.

In December, U.S. regulators had revised the label for Sanofi SA's (SASY.PA: Quote) similar heart drug Multaq to reflect a doubling of health risks, including death, for some patients with irregular heart rhythms.

"There were some safety concerns (with Multaq). So, Merck anticipated FDA being critical over vernakalant," said Morningstar analyst David Krempa.

In 2010, Merck had postponed a late-stage trial of the heart drug, without giving any reason.

Analysts said the full ramification of the development was not yet known.

"The news was very surprising. Merck had been progressing with trials in order to prepare the drug to be moved into pivotal studies," said Canaccord Genuity analyst Neil Maruoka.   Continued...