Merck acquires biopharma startup Abceutics for $19M

Rahway-based Merck recently acquired Abceutics, a preclinical-stage biopharmaceutical startup company, for up to $208 million, according to a news release from University at Buffalo researcher Joseph Balthasar, the Ph.D. who spearheaded the core technology.

The work of Abceutics is synergistic with an important emerging class of medicines called antibody-drug conjugates, which Merck invested heavily in last year when it made a multibillion-dollar deal with Daiichi Sankyo.

Abceutics’ technology has been developed through grants from the National Institutes of Health, as well as $110,000 from the Buffalo Innovation Accelerator Fund, which is operated by University of Buffalo’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships office.

ADCs consist of a monoclonal antibody coupled to a cytotoxic payload via a linker. The antibody component of an anticancer ADC specifically targets the medicine to particular cancer cells, and the cytotoxic payload uses highly potent cell-killing properties to then kill the targeted cancer cells.

Balthasar and his team engineered “payload-binding selectivity enhancers” to bind and neutralize stray payload molecules, reducing the impact of these agents on otherwise healthy cells.

“PBSEs are intended to be administered along with ADCs to reduce the risk of side effects, thereby potentially optimizing the therapeutic selectively and efficacy of ADC therapy,” said Balthasar.

Dr. David Weinstock, vice president of oncology discovery in Merck Research Laboratories, highlighted Abceutics’ success.

“The Abceutics team has already made remarkable progress in translating this novel idea into reality with a series of candidates and compelling early evidence,” he said. “We look forward to further evaluating the potential of this innovative approach in the clinic.

Merck is recognized as a leader in cancer research and has the expertise and capabilities needed to bring PBSE technology to patients, therefore making it well-suited to build upon the progress Abceutics has made.