M&A

Merck snaps up a German immuno-oncology upstart in a $603M bolt-on deal

Munich-based Rigontec is delivering a solid return for its venture backers. Merck $MRK has struck a rare deal to buy the biotech for $150 million in cash and another $453 million in milestones, snapping up a 3-year-old fledgling that raised just €30 million to get to this point.

For Merck it’s another example of how Roger Perlmutter likes to augment the work being done around its PD-1 superstar Keytruda with the occasional add-on. It’s a small deal for the pharma giant, and he’s clearly impressed with the potential the Bonn University spinout has in activating RIG-I as a key pathway in the innate immune system.

The technology is designed to activate an immune response, just as PD-1 can eliminate a defensive network protecting cancer cells.

“Rigontec’s immuno-oncology approach of engaging the innate immune system to safely eliminate cancer cells complements our strategy and our current pipeline,” said Eric Rubin, vice president of early-stage oncology development at Merck Research Laboratories. “We are eager to build upon Rigontec’s science as we continue our efforts in bringing forward meaningful advances for patients with cancer.”


Merck under Perlmutter has struck a few of these small acquisitions. IOmet’s I/O work was bagged in mid-2016 in another easy bolt-on for Merck, which hasn’t been doing big deals in recent years.

The big winners today are Rigontec’s investors: Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, Forbion Capital Partners, High-Tech Gründerfonds, MP Healthcare Venture Management, NRW.BANK, Sunstone Capital and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.


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