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Merck, Ambrx to Partner on Biologics Candidate Development

Peter Schultz (Scripps Research Institute)

Peter Schultz (Scripps Research Institute)

Ambrx Inc., a biopharmaceutical company in La Jolla, California, will collaborate with the global pharmaceutical maker Merck, to design and develop biologic drug conjugates, antibodies connected to drug payloads that bind with disease cell targets. The deal has a value of up to $303 million for Ambrx.

The agreement gives Merck worldwide rights to develop and commercialize Ambrx’s drug conjugates aimed precisely at pre-specified therapeutic targets. Ambrx’s technology engineers and optimizes proteins to give them drug-like properties in a process the company calls medicinal chemistry. The company says it focuses on metabolic diseases, endocrinology, oncology, and disorders of the central nervous system.

Peter Schultz (pictured right), company co-founder and professor of chemistry at Scripps Research Institute says, “Ambrx’s technology has the potential to provide the foundation for a new family of biologic drug conjugates that selectively deliver small molecules to their site of action.” Richard Murray, who heads Merck’s biologics division, says the agreement will allow Merck “to combine Ambrx’s expertise in site-specific protein conjugation chemistry with Merck’s expanding antibody capabilities and extensive small molecule resources.”

Under the agreement, Ambrx will receive an initial payment of $15 million and can receive milestone payments totaling up to $288 million for discovery, development and commercialization of candidates for the specified targets. Ambryx will also be eligible for royalties on any net sales of products resulting from the collaboration.

In March 2012, Merck revealed plans today to establish the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), an independent, not-for-profit organization to speed the translation of basic biomedical research into new medicines. Peter Schultz also serves as director of Calibr.

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