Lilly, Merck double down on peptide-targeted drug delivery, betting billions in biobucks on PeptiDream pacts

Eli Lilly and Merck & Co. have identified PeptiDream’s peptides as a way to deliver therapeutic payloads to targets, leading them both to lay down more than $1 billion in milestones to work with the biotech.

PeptiDream is a Japanese biotech that has landed a string of deals with drug developers such as Alnylam and Takeda on the strength of its peptide discovery platform system. The system enables PeptiDream to identify peptides that can serve as the targeting mechanism for therapies. Once conjugated, the peptides take payloads to their targets to potentially deliver a potent hit without intolerable toxicity.

Merck recognized the potential of the approach in 2015. Back then, the drugmaker formed a multitarget discovery and optimization alliance with PeptiDream. Now, Merck has built on its earlier deal, paying an upfront fee of undisclosed size and committing to $2.1 billion in milestones to work with the biotech.

The new deal tasks PeptiDream with providing peptide candidates against targets of interest to Merck. In return for its outlay, Merck has secured exclusive rights to the peptide candidates for conjugation to cytotoxic payloads. Merck will be responsible for development of any peptide-drug conjugate products arising from the collaboration.

One hour after disclosing the Merck deal, PeptiDream put out news of a pact with Lilly. Like Merck, Lilly is a long-term partner of PeptiDream, first signing up to work with the peptide specialist in 2013. In the latest iteration of the alliance, Lilly has tasked its partner with identifying high-affinity macrocyclic peptide ligands to its targets of interest. Lilly will use the peptides to deliver its conjugated payload.

PeptiDream is receiving an upfront payment as part of the Lilly deal, but, as with its other agreements, the big paydays are contingent on it meeting milestones down the line. All told, PeptiDream could make more than $1.2 billion in milestones from the Lilly deal.