Synthetic biology company Pearl Bio has signed a licence, partnership and option agreement with Merck for the discovery of biologic therapies that incorporate non-standard amino acids to treat cancer.

The partnership is underpinned by the substantial expertise and patents from its scientific co-founders’ laboratories which focus on the use of genomically recoded organisms (GROs) for encoding synthetic chemistries.

This approach is expected to create new classes of multi-functionalised biologics with adjustable properties.

The alliance will leverage Pearl’s GRO technology, along with its expertise in both cell-based and cell-free systems and the use of tethered ribosomes for encoding synthetic monomers. to target epitopes that were previously inaccessible.

Pearl is entitled to receive $1bn in combined upfront, option and milestone payments from Merck.

The company will receive royalty payments on the sales of any approved products that emerge from the partnership.

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Merck Research Laboratories Discovery Biologics vice-president Juan Alvarez stated: “Merck is excited to collaborate with Pearl, a pioneer in developing recoded organisms, to produce novel biologics enabled by synthetic chemistries.”

Pearl Bio, supported by Khosla Ventures, focuses on advancing its platform technology to develop multi-functionalised biologics and biomaterials through encoding synthetic chemistries.

The company is expanding its capabilities both in-house and via strategic pharmaceutical collaborations.

Pearl Bio co-founder and president Amy Cayne Schwartz stated: “We are excited to demonstrate the power of Pearl’s technology in our partnership with Merck to create multi-functionalised therapeutic candidates with tunable properties solving for some of the key shortcomings confronting biologics.”

The latest development comes after Merck concluded the acquisition of Harpoon Therapeutics for $680m in early 2024, broadening its oncology pipeline.