- German drugmaker Merck KGaA is bulking up its capacity for making messenger RNA medicines, announcing Thursday an agreement to acquire the Indianapolis-based contract manufacturer Exelead.
- Exelead, which Merck KGaA is buying for $780 million in cash, specializes in lipid nanoparticles, the tiny bubbles of fat used to deliver synthetic messenger RNA into the body. They're used in Pfizer and BioNTech's, as well as Moderna's vaccines for COVID-19, the former of which Exelead has helped to manufacture in small amounts.
- The companies expect the deal to close in the first quarter. Merck KGaA said it intends to scale up Exelead's headquarters in Indianapolis, where the smaller company employs over 200 people.
The success of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 has propelled interest and investment in the drugmaking technology outside of infectious disease. Thursday's deal by Merck KGaA, one of the larger contract manufacturers for the drug industry, signals its expectations that producing mRNA medicines and their components will be a growing business in the future.
"The acquisition of Exelead will further enable us to capture the significant potential of the fast-growing market for mRNA therapies by providing leading CDMO services to our customers," said Belén Garijo, Merck KGaA's CEO, in a statement.
The deal comes roughly a year after Merck KGaA bought AmpTec, another contract manufacturer that specializes in mRNA production.
mRNA vaccines and treatments have several components, the core of which is the genetic sequence of messenger RNA encoding for a target protein. But to get that sequence to the desired cells in the body, drugmakers have to wrap the mRNA in a shell of lipids, some of which are common and easy to make while others are more complicated.
The mRNA and lipids are then carefully combined to create lipid nanoparticles that can be joined with other components to make an injectable medicine or vaccine.
Exelead, which according to its website is owned by Italy's Essetifin SpA, says it can make lipid nanoparticles as well as other products like liposomal complexes and oligonucleotides. It manufactures five medicines, including Horizon Therapeutics' Krystexxa, Servier's Oncaspar and Takeda Pharmaceuticals' Kalbitor. Exelead also serves as a contract manufacturer for others.