Merck, Pearl Bio ink programmable biologics partnership

March 12, 2024

Merck (MSD) has partnered with Pearl Bio, a Massachusetts-based synthetic biology company, to develop biologic drugs using non-standard amino acids.

The agreement could result in Pearl receiving up to $1 billion in payments, including upfront, milestone payments, and royalties on sales of any resulting approved products. The collaboration will initially focus on discovery and development of biologic therapies for the treatment of cancer, leveraging Pearl’s exclusive Genomically Recoded Organisms (GROs), which facilitate the creation of new types of biologics with customizable features.

This also includes Pearl’s capabilities in both cell-based and cell-free systems, and its proprietary technology for encoding synthetic monomers. The goal is to target previously inaccessible biological targets, hopefully enhancing the efficacy of biologic therapies.

GROs are genetically modified organisms that enable the production of proteins with novel properties by incorporating non-standard amino acids. This recoding enhances virus resistance, enables the creation of proteins with unique functionalities, and improves biocontainment. GROs have broad therapeutic potential by offering tailored traits and capabilities not found in natural organisms.