Merck KGaA taps AI-focused biotech for new ADC pact worth $376M

Merck KGaA is hoping to sprout some new oncology and immunology therapeutics with Biolojic Design’s AI-driven drug discovery engine.

The partnership could yield up to 346 million euros ($376 million) for Israel’s Biolojic plus royalties on any net product sales that result, according to a Tuesday press release.

Merck has signed the multitarget drug discovery pact to find new multispecific antibodies in both immunology and oncology. The deal will include antibody-drug conjugates, a modality that has been all the rage in cancer for the past year.

The companies are aiming to develop ADCs that can block tumor escape mechanisms, overcome tumor and patient heterogeneity and improve on safety and efficacy.

Biolojic’s platform uses AI and computational design to turn human antibodies into programmable switches with specific functions such as agonism, antagonism and conditional binding. The company claims to have the first AI-designed antibody to enter the clinic. That’s AU-007, a selective effector cell agonist for cancer.

The biotech also has partnerships with Nektar Therapeutics and Teva as well as having two wholly owned programs for autoimmune diseases.

Exact terms of the deal were slim, but Biolojic will receive a “low double-digit million euro upfront payment” plus research funding from Merck. The disclosed payments include drug discovery, development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments that could reach 346 million euros.