Synthetic biology gets a boost

Codon Devices to engineer protein drug for Merrimack Pharmaceuticals

Amy Swinderman
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Privately-held biotechnology companies Codon Devices Inc. and Merrimack Pharmaceuticals Inc. have entered into a research, development and licensing agreement in which Codon will engineer therapeutic proteins that Merrimack will use to produce novel human therapeutics, the companies announced last month.

Under the terms of the agreement, Codon will receive clinical milestone payments and royalties on net sales that may result from Merrimack's development and commercialization of any protein product coming out of the collaboration. The expected value of these payments has not been disclosed.

The companies describe the agreement as a landmark one in the biology space, particularly in synthetic biology.

"Five years ago, synthetic biology was largely academic, but now you see it being used by companies like Codon every day, says Codon President Dr. Brian M. Baynes.

Under the agreement, Codon will apply its BioLOGIC platform to rapidly engineer and optimize therapeutic proteins according to specifications designed by Merrimack.

Codon's BioLOGIC platform combines sophisticated computational design algorithms, high-quality library construction and a novel protein display system particularly suited for engineering functional properties of large proteins such as antibodies.

"Codon has a unique technology and great expertise in the areas of library technology and protein engineering," says Dr. Ulrik Nielsen, senior vice president of Research at Merrimack.

Merrimack's pipeline focuses on novel treatments for autoimmune diseases and cancer. The company's proprietary Network Biology discovery platform, developed with the help of scientists from MIT and Harvard, enables the high-throughput profiling of protein networks as a basis for improved validation, lead identification and speed in the development of therapeutics.
 
Merrimack's drug compund MM-093 is in clinical trials for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and disease uveitis. Under the new agreement, the companies will collaborate on another, undisclosed project.

Until now, Codon has focused on synthesizing a broad variety of custom-made gene sequences and genetically engineered cells for its customers. Codon says the Merrimack deal is the company's "first move into value-added human drug product development."

"It is our hope that this deal is the first indication that we're on the right track with synthetic building companies like Merrimack to discover and develop proteins more rapidly and more cost effectively," Baynes says. "This will enable us to generate new leads more quickly and get companies' pipelines stuffed as full as possible."

Amy Swinderman

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