Merck & Co. Jumps Into RNA Frenzy With $100 Million Bet on Moderna Therapeutics, Inc.

Merck Jumps Into RNA Frenzy With $100 Million Bet on Moderna Therapeutics
January 13, 2015
By Krystle Vermes, Breaking News Staff

Cambridge-based Moderna Therapeutics announced today that it has entered a license and collaboration agreement with Merck & Co. worth $100 million. The goal is to develop passive immunity therapies and messenger RNA-based antiviral vaccines. Moderna’s work will be led by Valera, its venture firm focused on the development of mRNA vaccines.

The collaboration is set to take place over the next three years with the possibility of a one year extension. Merck will make an upfront cash payment of $50 million to Moderna, as well as a $50 million equity investment.

Valera creates vaccines that build on a body of preclinical research that shows the ability of altered mRNA to express viral antigens in vivo. These vaccines are also designed to induce immune responses.

"By combining Merck's strength in vaccine and antiviral therapeutic development with Moderna's mRNA Therapeutics technology we are well positioned to develop differentiated candidates with the potential to provide meaningful benefit to patients," said Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories. "We look forward to working with the scientific and technical teams at Moderna."

Moderna will be eligible for undisclosed per-product development and commercial milestones under the license of the agreement. It may also bring in tiered royalties on commercial sales.

"Given the tremendous potential for messenger RNA Therapeutics across a wide range of therapeutic applications, establishing long-term strategic relationships with world leaders in their fields will accelerate our ability to bring mRNA products to patients in need," said Stephane Bancel, president and CEO of Moderna.

The Growth of Messenger RNA Therapeutics
The mRNA Therapeutics platform from Moderna is an in vivo drug technology that produces human proteins, antibodies and novel protein constructs inside of human cells. It provides an alternative to existing drug modalities for a wide range of diseases.

On Jan. 5, Moderna announced that it had raised $450 million in new funding to expand mRNA Therapeutics. The financing round was the company’s largest to date. New investors who participated included Viking Global Investors, Invus, and RA Capital Management.

“With $800 million in cash after this financing, we are moving rapidly to support the exponential growth of our mRNA Therapeutics platform with new investments, partnerships and ventures, and are committed to recruiting the best industry talent to support this growth at all levels, including bench scientists, seasoned drug hunters and leaders for our new ventures,” said Bancel.

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