Merck is adding another partner in neurodegenerative disease to the roster: Amathus Therapeutics, a biotech taking aim at molecular chaperones, a group of proteins that guide the folding of other proteins.
Under the deal, Amathus will identify small molecules that activate molecular chaperones and advance them through preclinical discovery, the company said in a statement. Merck forks over an upfront fee and snags the option to acquire its partner and its pipeline of programs for the treatment of kidney diseases as well as neurodegenerative diseases.
If the Big Pharma pulls the trigger on the buyout option, it will pick up clinical development and commercialization for any prospects, while Amathus will stand to pick up milestone payments that could exceed $500 million for each successful program.
Amathus’s approach targets chaperones in specific organelles, such as mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum. It’s working on drugs to treat a range of genetically developed diseases, including Parkinson’s disease with PINK1 mutations and polycystic kidney disease. Its work is based on research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Mount Sinai Health System faculty and the lab of Professor Yiannis Ioannou, Ph.D.
“[The] Amathus team has demonstrated activation of molecular chaperones is possible and the potential to address core mitochondrial dysfunction with specificity holds tremendous therapeutic potential,” said Edward Holson, Ph.D., in the statement. “The Merck neuroscience team is an ideal partner to translate this novel approach into potential first-in-class, disease modifying treatments for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.”
Merck has inked several neurodegenerative disease deals in the past year, including a pact with Almac in April 2020 to identify and develop drugs that inhibit deubiquitinases, or DUBs, for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
In June, the drugmaker teamed up with Yumanity Therapeutics, bagging the rights to two preclinical assets for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar dementia. With an upfront payment and the usual promise of milestones, the Yumanity partnership could be worth about $500 million.