Merck (NYSE:MRK) is giving Cardiome (NASDAQ:CRME) something that all developmental-stage drugmakers love: cash and access to even more. Cardiome sold the farm to get it, but at least it'll be able to feed the lab rats.

For $60 million and a credit line of an additional $100 million, Merck licensed the rights to the oral formulation of vernakalant, Cardiome's atrial fibrillation treatment, and the rights to the intravenous (IV) formulation outside of North America -- Astellas owns the North American rights. That's a sizable stash, considering Cardiome had around $30 million in cash and equivalents at the end of last year.

Cardiome has the potential to receive another $640 million in milestone payments if the drugs reach clinical, regulatory, and sales goals as well as royalties on sales, so it's not like the Canadian company gave away the farm. But Cardiome isn't left with much in the pipeline; its next-farthest along drug is a phase 1 compound that it's developing to treat patients after heart attacks.

The phase 3 trials for the oral treatment would be expensive, so Cardiome had planned on licensing vernakalant out, but it might have been in a better bargaining position had things worked out better for the IV version. After a long delay, the Food and Drug Administration turned down the marketing application for the drug and asked for more information last August.

With so much cash in their pockets, I expect drugmakers like GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) to continue to license and make outright purchases of developmental-stage drugs. Dilution through secondary offerings ranges from impossible to painful, so taking cash from a big brother is the only option for many developmental-stage drugmakers.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.