Merck to support development of Orna’s circular RNA (oRNA) therapies

Under a collaboration agreement Merck will pay Orna $150 million to support the progress of multiple oRNA vaccine and therapeutic programmes.

mRNA strand

Merck (MSD outside of the US and Canada) has entered into a collaboration agreement with Orna Therapeutics to discover, develop and commercialise multiple programmes of engineered circular RNA (oRNA) therapies, including vaccines and therapeutics in the areas of infectious disease and oncology

Under the agreement, Merck will make an upfront payment to Orna of $150 million. Further, Orna will be eligible to receive up to $3.5 billion in development, regulatory and sales milestones associated with the progress of the multiple vaccine and therapeutic programmes, as well as royalties on any approved products derived from the collaboration.

Orna will retain rights to its oRNA-LNP (lipid nanoparticle) technology platform and will continue to advance other wholly owned programmes in areas such as oncology and genetic disease. Merck will also invest $100 million of equity in Orna’s recently completed Series B financing round.

Orna’s proprietary oRNA technology creates circular RNAs from linear RNAs by self-circularisation. oRNA molecules have been shown to have greater stability in vivo than linear mRNA and have the potential to produce larger quantities of therapeutic proteins inside the body. Newly synthesised oRNA molecules are more compactly packaged into custom LNPs, which Orna has engineered to target key tissues in the body. Pre-clinical data, including presentations at the 2022 American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) Annual Meeting, have demonstrated the potential of oRNA expression and delivery as an approach for further development in multiple areas, including vaccines and oncology therapeutics.

“This broad strategic collaboration brings together Merck’s significant expertise in nucleic acid biology, clinical development and manufacturing with Orna’s compelling circular RNA technology to explore the opportunity to develop a new generation of potential vaccines and therapeutics,” commented Fiona Marshall, senior vice president and head of discovery, preclinical and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories. “We look forward to working with the talented scientific and technical teams at Orna.”

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Merck, a company committed to breakthrough science, which has recognised the potential our platform can bring to patients. Our oRNA technology plus novel delivery solutions are designed to unlock the full potential of RNA in therapeutics and vaccines,” added Tom Barnes, Chief Executive Officer of Orna. “The combined expertise of Orna and Merck aims to accelerate the development of RNA therapeutics for patients in need of better treatment options.”