(Bloomberg) -- Merck & Co. restocked its cabinet of eye treatments with the purchase of Eyebiotech Ltd. for as much as $3 billion, a move to help prepare for increasing price pressure on top-selling cancer therapy Keytruda in the coming years.

Merck will pay $1.3 billion upfront and as much as another $1.7 billion if the closely held UK company meets future business goals, according to a statement Wednesday. EyeBio’s leading asset is Restoret, an early-stage experimental antibody aimed at diseases such as a form of age-related macular degeneration that occurs when abnormal, leaky blood vessels form in the retina, and diabetic eye disease.  

While it raised its profit and sales forecast for the year on Keytruda sales, Merck has been on the hunt for deals as its leading product ages. Last year, it paid $10.8 billion for Prometheus Biosciences Inc., which develops drugs for autoimmune disorders, and made a pact worth up to $22 billion to sell three cancer compounds from Daiichi Sankyo Co. Its most important new drug, a hypertension treatment called Winrevair, came through the $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma Inc. in 2021. 

Chief Executive Officer Rob Davis has said the company is looking for deals in the range of $1 billion to $15 billion to expand its treatment portfolio. While relatively small, the Eyebio deal is reason to be “encouraged by the progress Merck continues to make diversifying its revenue base,” BMO analyst Evan Seigerman said. Merck had recently sold off the rights to much of its ophthalmology business, he wrote in a note to clients.

Merck shares were little changed at the New York market open. They gained 16% since the year began through Tuesday’s close.

Diabetic eye disease affects about 1 million people in the US, while neovascular age-related macular degeneration affects about 1.8 million, a number expected to grow as the population ages. EyeBio’s drug will enter late-stage development in the second half of this year and faces a crowded market that includes approved ocular medicines from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., Novartis AG and others.

UK venture capitalist Kate Bingham of SV Health Investors is a backer of Eyebio and chair of its board. She received a damehood for her work on the country’s vaccine task force during the pandemic. 

The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of the year, according to the statement. Citi acted as financial adviser to Merck, and Centerview Partners advised EyeBio.

--With assistance from Sabah Meddings.

(Updates with company’s, analyst’s comments starting in fourth paragraph.)

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