ALS drug discoverer Verge signs on Merck, Lilly for nearly $100M oversubscribed funding round

Eli Lilly and Merck are piling on to fund AI drug discovery company Verge Genomics, which has a fresh $98 million to continue its tech-enabled approach to finding new medicines.

Funds managed by BlackRock led the oversubscribed series B round with Lilly, Merck and others joining in.

Lilly is already well known to Verge. The two locked in a deal to find new amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) drugs back in July. That tie-up was worth $25 million upfront for Verge, with up to $694 million possible down the line. Lilly could select up to four candidates to move into the clinic.

The latest funding will go toward “exponentially” growing preclinical and clinical programs in the company’s pipeline and to move lead programs through the clinic, Verge said in a Thursday release. Verge will also work to improve its drug discovery platform, specifically in the areas of translational medicine and clinical development.

RELATED: Eli Lilly taps Verge Genomics in ALS deal worth $25M upfront

Merck Global Health Innovation Fund Managing Director David Rubin, Ph.D., noted how quickly Verge has managed to move its lead program forward as validation of the AI platform’s potential. The first candidate in ALS is expected to enter the clinic in 2022.  

Led by CEO and co-founder Alice Zhang, Verge is targeting ALS and Parkinson’s disease. The company was created in 2015 in an attempt to solve a problem that has plagued drug development. The industry can now screen targets quickly, but the resulting candidates weren’t necessarily translating from animals to humans.

That’s where Verge steps in with its all-in-human drug discovery tech that includes tissue samples from the brains and spinal cords of real patients with different diseases.

San Francisco-based Verge raised $32 million in a series A back in 2018, emerging with 22 novel targets for ALS.