Merck KGaA acquires Exelead CDMO in race for mRNA technology

Germany-based Merck KGaA signed an agreement to buy CDMO Exelead for $780 million in cash, as Merck KGaA looks to expand its reach in the fast-growing market for mRNA therapies.

Exelead, headquartered in Indianapolis, specializes in complex sterile injectable formulations like lipid nanoparticle-based technologies, a key component for use in mRNA treatments, like the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We are excited to work with Exelead’s experienced team,” said Matthias Heinzel, a member of the Executive Board of Merck KGaA. “This will significantly decrease supply chain complexity and enhance speed-to-market to ultimately accelerate access to life-enhancing therapeutics for patients worldwide.”

Merck KGaA intends to scale up operations at Exelead’s headquarters, where Exelead employs more than 200 experts, and to continue investing in mRNA as a modality. This comes as part of Merck KGaA’s plan to accelerate innovation through targeted high-impact acquisitions. In January 2021, the company announced their acquisition of AmpTec, a Germany-based mRNA CDMO, specializing in differentiated PCR-based technology. At the time of acquisition, Merck KGaA said the move would allow them to increase mRNA development and manufacturing capabilities.

The market for mRNA technologies is exploding with many companies like BioNTech, Pfizer and Sanofi continuing to invest heavily in mRNA assets following the success of the technology in the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Exelead sale is expected to close in the first three months of 2022, pending regulatory approval.