Ginkgo inks $144M deal with Merck to engineer enzymes to improve ingredient manufacturing
While Merck has not been averse to partnering with smaller companies and the odd startup, its latest partnership sees it linking arms with Ginkgo Bioworks to help boost active pharmaceutical ingredient production through the use of enzymes.
The partnership will have Ginkgo develop a strain of biocatalysts that can be used in chemical synthesis for the production of APIs. Ginkgo can earn upfront R&D fees and milestone payments, as well as commercial payments which have the potential to rake in up to $144 million for the company.
Ginkgo’s CEO Jason Kelly told Endpoints News that this is not new territory for Ginkgo, and it has worked on projects with pharma companies such as Novo Nordisk and Biogen in the past. The company is also suited to discoveries in the field of enzymes. Kelly said that the process took around three months to put together and will be looking to make four to five catalysts for Merck.
One of the things they were excited about is we can do this in different host strains, that is the traditional E. coli, which is what most folks that have worked in biocatalysts previously have expressed these heterologous enzymes in E. coli and there are certain types of enzymes that don’t express well in E. coli. So, we can explore a bigger enzyme space because we work in several fungal hosts, in addition to E. coli, and so that’s what they were excited about. They wanted us to try to go after some of these hard chemical steps.
For now, the research end of the deal has already started, according to Kelly, and is expected to be completed in around 12 to 18 months. After that, the researched strain will be produced at a smaller level before Merck, or another manufacturer, will eventually make the enzyme for commercial use.
For Kelly, this deal is a major step:
The reality is what we have on the platform today, particularly with having more options than E. coli, plus all our metagenomic hunting, being able to go look in these giant proprietary genome databases to find better enzymes, and we have huge databases of microbial collections that we’ve sequenced of our own. That is a unique asset in the industry, and so we’re hopeful that we get to go around and talk to everybody that’s doing that kind of manufacturing and selling them a biocatalyst deal.
As the US government is now pumping millions of dollars into biomanufacturing for APIs, Kelly also said that companies will be looking toward more domestic efforts in synthetic biochemistry to help in steps that may be too expensive. And if the deal is ultimately successful for Ginkgo, there are other synthetic steps in API manufacturing that the company can step in and try to accommodate in the future.