Merck taps Zymeworks' high-tech antibody shop in $187M deal

Drug giant Merck's ($MRK) latest collaboration gives developer Zymeworks a nice plug for its high-tech approach to discovering bi-specific antibodies that can bind to two different drug targets with a single molecule.

Vancouver-based Zymeworks appears to be among biotechs that use computational tools to distinguish themselves among packs of upstarts hungry for deals with Big Pharma outfits, and streamlining R&D with in silico experiments of virtual versions of molecules to validate them before they move into wet-lab testing. As most developers know, chemistry software for designing molecules has been widely available for years. But Zymeworks says its technology is proprietary.

The firm's protein engineers use software called ZymeCAD to guide the discovery of so-called bi-specific antibodies, using the technology to simulate how modifications to the structures of the molecules could impact the way they work, according to the company. Merck has agreed to give Zymeworks an upfront fee and up to $187 million in milestone payments tied to the advancement of drugs against specific targets produced with Zymeworks' Azymetric platform, which is used in developing the bi-specific antibodies.

"We're trying to push the entire space of drug discovery beyond what it was 20 years ago," Ali Tehrani, Zymeworks' CEO, told BioWorld Today. "We're trying to digitize biotech."

There are certainly limits to virtual drug discovery, and, of course, all the results of the computer-simulated tests of drugs have to be confirmed in a wet lab. Yet Zymeworks' deal with Merck follows a recent $24 million round of VC for Nimbus Discovery, a Cambridge, MA-based developer that is using chemistry software from Schrodinger as part of strategy to streamline its R&D and move ahead with drugs against cancer and metabolic disorders.

- here's the release
- see the piece in BioWorld

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