Partnering News: Merck & Co., Sanofi & More
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A roundup of bio/pharmaceutical partnering news from Merck & Co./Orna Therapeutics, Merck & Co./Cerevance, Merck & Co./Starpharma, and Sanofi/Atomwise.

* Merck & Co., Orna in $3.75-Bn Deal for RNA Drugs
* Merck & Co., Cerevance in $1.1-Bn Alzheimer’s Drug Deal
* Merck & Co., Starpharma Sign ADC Drug-Delivery Research Pact
* Sanofi, Atomwise in $1-Bn AI-Based Small-Molecule Research Pact


Merck & Co., Orna in $3.75-Bn Deal for RNA Drugs
Merck & Co. and Orna Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based bio/pharmaceutical company using RNA technology, have entered into a collaboration for discovering, developing, and commercializing vaccines and therapeutics for infectious diseases and oncology in a deal worth up to $3.75 billion ($150 million upfront, $100-million equity stake in Orna by Merck, and $3.5 billion in milestone payments).

Orna’s RNA technology focus is on circular RNA (oRNA), which seeks to address limitations of current immunotherapies by delivering chimeric antigen receptors directly to patient’s immune cells within the body. Circular RNA is derived from linear RNAs by self-circularization, and Orna says that these molecules have been shown to have greater stability in vivo than linear mRNA and have the potential to produce larger quantities of therapeutic proteins inside the body. The company says that oRNA molecules are more compactly packaged into custom lipid nanoparticles (LNPs), which Orna has engineered to target key tissues in the body.

Under the agreement, Merck & Co. will make an upfront payment to Orna of $150 million. In addition, Orna will be eligible to receive up to $3.5 billion in development, regulatory, and sales milestones associated with the progress of the multiple vaccine and therapeutic programs, as well as royalties on any approved products derived from the collaboration. Orna will retain rights to its oRNA-LNP technology platform and will continue to advance other wholly owned programs in areas such as oncology and genetic disease. Merck & Co. will also invest $100 million of equity in Orna’s recently completed Series B financing round.

Source: Orna Therapeutics


Merck & Co., Cerevance in $1.1-Bn Alzheimer’s Drug Deal
Merck & Co. and Cerevance, a Cambridge, UK-based bio/pharmaceutical company discovering and developing therapeutics for neurological and psychiatric disorders, have entered into research collaboration to identify targets for Alzheimer’s disease in a deal worth up to $1.1 billion ($25 million upfront and $1.1 billion in potential milestone payments).

Cerevance will use its proprietary drug-discovery platform, Nuclear Enriched Transcript Sort sequencing (NETSseq) to identify targets for Alzheimer’s disease. The NETSseq technology uses specific cell populations from healthy and diseased human brain tissue samples to expose biological pathways underlying neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases that would be difficult to see in animal models or differentiated human stem cells. Cerevance’s platform has the potential to identify therapeutic targets that can be modulated to correct neural circuitry or slow the disease process. Cerevance will concurrently out-license one discovery-stage program to Merck as part of the collaboration.

Under the agreement, Cerevance will receive a $25-million upfront payment and is eligible to receive development and commercial milestone payments totaling approximately $1.1 billion, in addition to potential royalties on sales of approved products derived from the collaboration.

Source: Cerevance


Merck & Co., Starpharma Sign ADC Drug-Delivery Research Pact
Merck & Co. and Starpharma, a Melbourne, Australia-based drug-delivery company specializing in dendrimers, have formed a drug-delivery research agreement for antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) using StarPharma’s proprietary dendrimer drug-delivery platform, DEP.

The new agreement follows an earlier DEP ADC agreement signed with Merck & Co. in February 2021. Under the new agreement, Starpharma will design and synthesize a number of DEP dendrimer conjugates and provide them to Merck for testing and characterization.

Research fees are payable to Starpharma for the work completed under the new 12-month agreement. The agreement is subject to industry standard performance and termination provisions.

Source: Starpharma


Sanofi, Atomwise in $1-Bn AI-Based Small-Molecule Research Pact
Sanofi and Atomwise, a Atom wise San Francisco, California-based bio/pharmaceutical company using artificial intelligence (AI) for small-molecule drug-discovery and structure-based drug design, have formed an exclusive research collaboration, to use Atomwise’s proprietary AI platform for computational discovery and research for up to five drug targets, in a deal worth up to $1 billion ($20 million upfront and  more than $1 billion in potential milestone payments).

Atomwise’s AtomNet platform incorporates structure-based drug design enabled by AI-powered search of Atomwise’s proprietary library of more than 3 trillion synthesizable compounds.

Under the agreement, Sanofi will pay Atomwise $20 million upfront to identify, synthesize, and advance lead compounds for up to five targets, which will be exclusive to Sanofi. Subsequent payments pegged to key research, development, and sales milestones could total more than $1 billion. In addition, tiered royalties have been established for products developed through the collaboration.

Source: Atomwise