Merck has agreed to front USD 150 million for Orna Therapeutics’ new investigational class of engineered circular RNA (oRNA) therapies in a collaboration agreement that will also provide the biotech series B financing.
This broad strategic collaboration brings together Merck’s significant expertise … with Orna’s compelling circular RNA technology to explore the opportunity to develop a new generation of potential vaccines and therapeutics.
Fiona Marshall, SVP & head of discovery, preclinical and translational medicine, Merck
Orna’s proprietary oRNA technology
What sparked Merck’s interest in the Massachusetts-based biotech is Orna’s proprietary oRNA technology that creates circular RNAs (oRNAs) from linear RNAs by self-circularization. If Orna’s findings are correct, the self-circularizing RNA will improve the production, protein expression and immunogenicity of traditional linear mRNA therapies, offering huge potential for further development in multiple areas, including vaccines and oncology.
That interest is keen enough for Merck to agree, not only to paying USD 150 million upfront to work with Orna on advancing programs including engineered circular RNA (oRNA) vaccines and therapeutics, the pharma company has also committed to up to USD 3.5 billion in milestones and an investment of USD100 million in Orna’s recently completed Series B financing round.
More funds ahead
After the initial payment, which will be handed over in the third quarter of this year, Orna will be eligible to receive the additional funds for development, regulatory, and sales milestones, as well as royalties on any approved products derived from the collaboration. Orna will, however, retain rights to its technology platform and continue to work on its other proprietary programs in areas such as oncology and genetic disease.
“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,” said Fiona Marshall, senior vice president and head of discovery, preclinical and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories.
“We are thrilled to collaborate with Merck, a company committed to breakthrough science, which has recognized the potential our platform can bring to patients. Our oRNA technology plus novel delivery solutions are designed to unlock the full potential of RNA in therapeutics and vaccines,” said Orna CEO, Tom Barnes.”