Medical Innovation Exchange

Merck seals $610M biobucks deal to acquire preclinical neurodegenerative biotech Caraway

Merck & Co. has made no secret of its ongoing hunt for acquisitions, and, now, the Big Pharma is rounding off the year by swelling its preclinical pipeline with a selection of programs aimed at Parkinson’s disease and beyond.

The New Jersey company has signed off on up to $610 million in combined upfront payment and potential milestones to buy Caraway Therapeutics—although no breakdown of the exact costs was given in the relatively sparse Nov. 21 release.

Originally named Rheostat Therapeutics, the company was incubated at SV Health Investors and the Dementia Discovery Fund before arriving on the scene in 2018 with $23 million in series A funding. Merck has been a backer from the start, having co-led that funding round along with AbbVie.

Rebranding to Caraway the following year, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company billed itself as a “leader in the cutting-edge science of activating autophagy, the cellular recycling processes to clear toxic materials and defective cellular components.”

Since the rebrand, the biotech hasn’t made much noise, but the company’s website currently lists four programs in the works, none of which have entered the clinic. They include two different compounds designed to modulate TRPML1, a transient receptor potential ion channel that is shown to be dysregulated in neurodegenerative diseases. One of the compounds is being developed for Parkinson’s associated with a mutated GBA gene, while the other is focused on non-central nervous system rare diseases.

Also in the pipeline is a TMEM175 modulator designed to increase activity of this lysosomal potassium channel in patients with Parkinson’s or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There is also another potential Parkinson’s drug that remains in the discovery stage.

Merck already made an M&A splash this year with the almost $11 billion acquisition of Prometheus Biosciences and its late-phase bowel disease drug, followed by a $4 billion payment last month to secure three antibody-drug conjugates from Daiichi Sankyo. As the Big Pharma continues to plot out its post-Keytruda future, executives have been open about the ongoing need to refill the pipeline this year.

“Caraway’s multidisciplinary approach has yielded important progress in evaluating novel mechanisms of modulation of lysosomal function with potential for the treatment of progressive neurodegenerative diseases,” George Addona, Ph.D., senior vice president of discovery, preclinical development and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories, said in this morning’s release.

“We look forward to applying our expertise to build upon this work with the goal of developing much needed disease-modifying therapies for these conditions,” Addona added.

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