Ambrx Nails Down Partnership with Merck KGaA to Develop Multiple Sclerosis Drug

2/24/09Follow @xconomy

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on a couple different levels. It’s the second deal between the two companies, who started working together in June 2007 on a longer-lasting version of human growth hormone that can be taken in fewer injections. That drug, ARX201, is designed to be a once-weekly injection instead of the usual daily shot. It’s now in mid-stage clinical trials.

So apparently the folks across the Atlantic are happy with how things are going with their San Diego partners, and were willing to double-down. “It’s good to see repeat business,” Kaldor says.

The other reason this deal is important is that Merck KGaA is a serious player in the multiple sclerosis business. It already markets a version of interferon-beta marketed as Rebif, so it knows the doctors, patients, and competitors in the market. It also is building a portfolio of MS drugs, including an oral pill form called cladribine that recently passed a pivotal stage clinical trial. “Merck Serono is very savvy in the space, and is taking a blended portfolio approach,” Kaldor says. “It’s a partnership we’re very excited about.”

Ambrx already had raised $96 million in venture capital, and depending how it spends its money, the money from this new deal will enable it to run at least until late 2011 or “considerably longer,” Kaldor says. The new partnership, Ambrx’s fifth with large drugmakers, means it has been able to hire 30 people in the past year, bringing its total staff to 84. It’s put the company in the enviable position of being able to hire when many companies are shedding talented staff, Kaldor says. “We’re building a company here, in spite of the macroeconomic environment,” he says.

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