Merck enters $221m 'circular’ RNA partnership with Orna

Merck has collaborated with Orna to develop and commercialize vaccines and therapeutics targeting oncology and infectious diseases.

Millie Nelson, Editor

August 18, 2022

2 Min Read
Merck enters $221m 'circular’ RNA partnership with Orna
Image: Stock Photo Secrets

Merck & Co. has collaborated with Orna Therapeutics to develop and commercialize vaccines and therapeutics targeting oncology and infectious diseases.

Merck (known as MSD outside of the US and Canada) will make an upfront payment of $150 million to circular RNA (oRNA) therapy firm Orna to discover, drive, and commercialize different programs. This payment will be expensed by Merck in the third quarter of this year.

Orna has the potential to receive up to $3.5 billion in sales, development and regulatory milestones associated with the aforementioned vaccine and therapeutic programs. This also includes royalties on any approved products that come from this partnership.


Image: Stock Photo Secrets

According to Orna, its technology named oRNA has the ability to create circular RNA from linear RNA using self-circularization. The company claims that oRNA molecules have displayed greater stability in vivo over linear mRNA and also could potentially produce bigger quantities of therapeutic proteins inside the human body.

Orna has designed the synthesized oRNA molecules to be compactly packaged into custom lipid nanoparticles (LNPs), which it says are designed to target specific tissues in the body.

“This broad strategic collaboration brings together Merck’s significant expertise in nucleic acid biology, clinical development, and manufacturing with Orna’s compelling circular RNA technology to explore the opportunity to develop a new generation of potential vaccines and therapeutics,” said Fiona Marshall, senior vice president and head of discovery, preclinical and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories.

“We look forward to working with the talented scientific and technical teams at Orna.”

Under the terms of the deal, Orna will keep the rights to its oRNA-LNP technology platform and continue development of its own programs in oncology and genetic disease. And Merck will also invest $100 million of equity in Orna’s recently completed Series B financing round.

About the Author(s)

Millie Nelson

Editor, BioProcess Insider

Journalist covering global biopharmaceutical manufacturing and processing news and host of the Voices of Biotech podcast.

I am currently living and working in London but I grew up in Lincolnshire (UK) and studied in Newcastle (UK).

Got a story? Feel free to email me at [email protected]

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