Clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, Ambrx, and Merck have entered into a collaboration to design and develop rationally optimised biologic drug conjugates.

The collaboration aims at developing biologic drug conjugates based on Ambrx’s site-specific protein medicinal chemistry technology.

Peter Schultz, Ambrx scientific founder and board member, said the company’s technology has the potential to provide the foundation for a new family of biologic drug conjugates that selectively deliver small molecules to their site of action.

"Merck and Ambrx will combine the targeting properties of biologics with the potent therapeutic properties of small molecules."

"Merck’s deep disease area expertise made it the partner of choice in expanding the application of this technology beyond oncology to other important disease areas," Schultz added.

As part of the agreement, Merck receives worldwide rights to develop and commercialise biotherapeutic drug conjugates aimed at a number of pre-specified targets, while Ambrx will receive an upfront payment of $15m.

Upon successful discovery, development and commercialisation of candidates, Ambrx is entitled to receive milestone payments totalling up to $288m.

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Ambrx will also obtain royalties on any net sales of products resulting from the collaboration.

Richard Murray, Merck’s biologics and vaccines research head and senior vice president, said: "This agreement will allow us to combine Ambrx’s expertise in site-specific protein conjugation chemistry with Merck’s expanding antibody capabilities and extensive small molecule resources."

Through the partnership, Merck and Ambrx will combine the targeting properties of biologics with the potent therapeutic properties of small molecules.

The collaboration will focus on designing and optimising new ways to deliver pharmacologically active compounds to their site of action, while minimising the potential for systemic effects.