Deals

Keytruda bonanza inspires a facelift and plans to invest more than $600M in translational research

Dave Tapolczay, CEO Life Arc

Scientists with the UK’s MRC Technology played a key role in humanizing the antibody that would go on to become Keytruda, Merck’s new flagship checkpoint inhibitor. And the windfall of cash that they get in a royalty stream from that effort is financing a makeover and a mission to invest the cash, to fund the ignition of new discovery work aimed at spawning a wave of new biotech product development projects.

As of today, MRC Technology is LifeArc, and the game plan there is to fund £500 million of new work on antimicrobials, neuroscience, personalized oncology and respiratory medicine.

“The name LifeArc better reflects what we achieve in being the arc or bridge between great science and its application to help patients,” said LifeArc CEO Dave Tapolczay.

The cash stream from Merck has been swelling as the pharma giant has rushed to stake out a leading role in the PD-(L)1 field, jumping ahead of Bristol-Myers Squibb — at least for the moment — in key areas like lung cancer.

Now the newly dubbed LifeArc also has the cash to set up two small funds that will back academic researchers financed by other organizations as well as an early-stage fund for new drugs. And the Merck money has financed new digs as well for its 80 scientists involved in antibody and small molecule research at Stevenage, with a new facility in Edinburgh as well.

The announcement at LifeArc came just ahead of Medicxi’s news that it is rolling out a new $300 million late-stage biotech fund, adding further to the amount of cash available for biotechs in the region. The UK’s Golden Triangle has traditionally lagged behind the big global hubs in Boston/Cambridge and the Bay Area, but it remains a vital part of the global life science R&D scene with stellar science at top institutions.


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