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Merck and Orna agree on deal worth $3.5bn for RNA technology

The companies will work together to develop proprietary circular RNA technology

Merck

Merck – known as MSD outside the US and Canada – and Orna Therapeutics (Orna) have announced a collaboration agreement to advance Orna’s next generation of RNA technology.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will make an upfront payment of $150m to Orna.
In addition to this, Orna will also be eligible to receive up to $3.5bn in milestones, as well as royalties.

Orna will retain rights to its oRNA-LNP technology platform and will continue to advance other wholly owned programmes in areas such as oncology and genetic diseases. Merck will also invest $100m of equity in Orna’s recently completed series B financing round.

Aiming to discover, develop and commercialise multiple programmes, including vaccines and therapeutics in the areas of infectious disease and oncology, the collaboration will see Merck partner with Orna on its proprietary circular RNA (oRNA) technology.

oRNA molecules have demonstrated greater stability in vivo compared to linear mRNA and can potentially produce larger amounts of therapeutic proteins inside the body.

The molecules can also be packaged into lipid nanoparticles, which Orna has engineered to target key tissues in the body.

Preclinical data showed the potential of oRNA expression and delivery as an approach for further development in various areas, including vaccines and oncology treatments.

Commenting on the agreement, Fiona Marshall, senior vice president and head of discovery, preclinical and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories, said: “This broad strategic collaboration brings together Merck’s significant expertise in nucleic acid biology, clinical development, and manufacturing with Orna’s compelling circular RNA technology to explore the opportunity to develop a new generation of potential vaccines and therapeutics."

Tom Barnes, chief executive officer of Orna, added: “Our oRNA technology plus novel delivery solutions are designed to unlock the full potential of RNA in therapeutics and vaccines. The combined expertise of Orna and Merck aims to accelerate the development of RNA therapeutics for patients in need of better treatment options."

The announcement comes after Merck and Cerevance signed a multi-year strategic research collaboration agreement to identify novel targets for Alzheimer’s disease.

Cerevance, a specialist in diseases affecting the central nervous system, plans to concurrently out-licence the programme according to the terms of the agreement with Merck, and will utilise its proprietary Nuclear Enriched Transcript Sort sequencing technology platform.

Article by
Emily Kimber

18th August 2022

From: Sales

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