Merck ($MRK) to buy SmartCells in $500M deal

With an eye on remaining one of the leaders in the diabetes field, Merck ($MRK) has agreed to pay more than $500 million in upfront fees and potential milestones to acquire SmartCells, a Beverly, MA-based biotech with some intriguing new insulin technology that originated at MIT. The Wall Street Journal broke the story ahead of the press release.

The biotech company has a preclinical stage program underway for "SmartInsulin," insulin that automatically adjusts to fluctuating levels of blood glucose. Theoretically, a single daily injection would offer all the protection needed by a patient, without the regular monitoring and dosing that is required today.

For Merck, the deal would provide another potential successor to Januvia and Janumet, which together earned more than $2.5 billion last year. SmartCells was founded to pursue the scientific work of MIT Professor and co-founder Todd Zion. The biotech raised a Series A in 2004 and recently announced a modest $4.1 million Series D backed by The Boston Harbor Angels, Angel Healthcare Investors, Beacon Street Angels, Cherrystone Angels and Common Angels.

"Maintaining control of blood glucose levels represents a daily challenge for people living with diabetes," said Nancy Thornberry, senior vice president and head, diabetes and obesity franchise, Merck Research Laboratories. "Through the acquisition of SmartCells we have obtained innovative technology that may enable us to develop glucose-responsive insulins. If this investigational technology is ultimately approved for use with patients, it could provide an important new therapy for the treatment of diabetes. This holds the potential to significantly impact the treatment of this disease."

- here's the press release
- here's the report from the Wall Street Journal