2024-03-13| PartnershipsStartups

Pearl Bio Enters $1 Billion Partnership Agreement with MSD for Biologic Therapies

by Richard Chau
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Pearl Bio, a synthetic biology company, unveiled a collaboration with Merck (known as MSD outside of the U.S. and Canada) on March 12. The partnership, which is worth up to $1 billion, encompasses a license, collaboration, and option agreement aimed at discovering biologic therapies incorporating non-standard amino acids. 

The strategic pact is further fortified by the acquisition of deep expertise and a patent portfolio from the laboratories of Pearl’s scientific co-founders Prof. Farren Isaacs and Prof. Michael Jewett, specializing in Genomically Recoded Organisms (GROs) for encoding synthetic chemistries, opening avenues for entirely novel classes of multi-functionalized biologics with adjustable properties.

Related article: Leveraging Synthetic Biology, Microbiome-based Therapies Open Up Possibilities for Clinical Applications

Pioneering Biologic Therapies with Synthetic Chemistries

Pearl Bio is built on the foundation laid by the work of Isaacs and Jewett in the field of synthetic biology. In 2013, Isaacs, Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale School of Medicine, published a paper on GROs in Science. The big idea is to create new proteins using unnatural amino acids (UAAs) other than the 20 that are genetically encoded in nature, paving the way to the creation of novel drug molecules. Eight years later after this groundbreaking publication, the Massachusetts-based company came into existence with financial backing by Khosla Ventures, an American technology venture capital firm.

Though still being a seed-stage company, Pearl Bio possesses proprietary technology platforms that couple genome and ribosome engineering to produce novel biologics with diverse chemical properties, enabling the generation of a deep internal pipeline and partnership opportunities.

This time, the Merck-Pearl collaboration primarily focuses on the discovery and development of biologic therapies to combat cancer, leveraging Pearl’s exclusive GRO technology. Backed by Pearl’s distinctive capabilities include working seamlessly in both cell-based and cell-free systems, together with the use of proprietary tethered ribosomes to encode synthetic monomers, targeting previously inaccessible epitopes. 

Promising Financial Terms and Expert Endorsement

Amy Cayne Schwartz, Pearl Bio’s Co-Founder and President, expressed enthusiasm about the latest deal, stating, “We are excited to demonstrate the power of Pearl’s technology in our partnership with Merck to create multi-functionalized therapeutic candidates with tunable properties, addressing some of the key shortcomings facing biologics.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Pearl Bio stands to receive payments totaling up to $1 billion, comprising an undisclosed upfront from Merck, along with option and milestone payments. Additionally, the company may be entitled to potential royalties on sales of approved products resulting from the collaboration. Juan Alvarez, Vice President of Discovery Biologics at Merck Research Laboratories, conveyed Merck’s excitement, stating, “Merck is excited to collaborate with Pearl, a pioneer in developing recoded organisms, to produce novel biologics enabled by synthetic chemistries.”

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