Merck taps 4D pharma for bacterial vaccine R&D project

Merck has teamed up with 4D pharma to develop bacterial strains as vaccines. The deal gives Merck the chance to pick up three candidates against undisclosed indications in return for an upfront fee and up to $347.5 million (€316.2 million) per project in milestones.

4D landed the deal on the potential of its MicroRx technology. The platform enables 4D to identify strains that have significant effects on humans and target disease pathways that may be modulated by these host-bacteria interactions. 4D is mainly using the approach to go after solid tumors and gastrointestinal diseases, but Merck is interested in a different application of the technology. 

“By applying 4D's MicroRx technology we hope to gain meaningful insights into the role for the host microbiome in modulating the immune response and ultimately protection conferred by vaccines," Merck’s Daria Hazuda said in a statement.

To gain those insights, Merck is paying an upfront cash payment of undisclosed size for each of the three indications covered by the deal. 4D has also gained the right to make Merck buy $5 million of its stock during the first year of the collaboration, plus a shot at reeling in up to $347.5 million per project in milestones. The agreement features tiered royalties, too.

Merck will do most of the heavy lifting on any programs that advance out of the lab. 4D will use its MicroRx platform to get the programs—which are at the discovery stage—going, but Merck will take over for development, manufacturing and commercialization.

The agreement adds another facet to the relationship between 4D and Merck. Last year, 4D joined the list of companies to gain access to Merck’s Keytruda for a clinical development program, setting it up to test its live biotherapeutic MRx0518 in combination with the checkpoint inhibitor in patients with solid tumors. 

Shares in 4D rose more than 20% after news of the latest Merck deal emerged. The increase added to gains in recent weeks, over which time 4D’s share price has shot up from below £0.70 to above £1.20.