Merck strikes enzyme development deal worth up to $144M with fast-growing Ginkgo Bioworks

Less than a week after acquiring biotechs on either side of the Atlantic, Ginkgo Bioworks has scored a deal with Merck to bolster the pharma giant's active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing.

Specializing in synthetic biology, Ginkgo will engineer biocatalytic enzymes for Merck’s use in its drug manufacturing processes, the companies said.

Ginkgo, which has also partnered with Roche, Biogen and Moderna to improve their manufacturing formulas, will develop up to four enzymes for Merck in a deal that could be worth up to $144 million if specified milestones are met.

As explained by Ginkgo, biocatalysis is an alternative to some chemical synthesis and purification steps, allowing for cost savings in manufacturing. 

Merck is a pioneer in biocatalysis, using it to improve its manufacturing process for drugs such as Januvia, Gingko’s co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly said in a release.

Just last week, Ginkgo acquired two companies—announcing the deals on the same day. Five-year-old Altar of France specializes in fluidic technology to produce microbes used in the production of a variety of products. Eight-year-old Circularis of Oakland, Calif. brings a circular RNA promoter screening platform.

Ginkgo launched in 2009 to develop a platform that eases the cell engineering process. Initially it applied the platform to pesticides and perfumes but increasingly turned to pharmaceutical manufacturing.

In early 2020, Ginkgo teamed with Moderna to help process optimization for raw materials used in mRNA vaccines. A Ginkgo deal last year with Biogen was designed to develop recombinant AAV vectors.