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UB Startup Acquired by Biopharma Company Merck

Abceutics, Inc., a startup preclinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that was spun out of the laboratory of University at Buffalo researcher Joseph P. Balthasar, PhD, has been acquired by the global biopharmaceutical company Merck, known as MSD outside the U.S. and Canada.

Merck acquired Abceutics for a potential consideration of up to $208 million, including contingent milestone payments based upon the progress of candidates under the agreement.

Balthasar, the David and Jane Chu Endowed Chair in Drug Discovery and Development in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, launched the startup in 2020.

The company’s core technology was licensed from University at Buffalo. The technology has been developed through grants from the National Institutes of Health, as well as $110,000 from the Buffalo Innovation Accelerator Fund, which is operated by UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships office.

Abceutics has operated out of incubator space in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, which also provided the company $50,000 from Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation. Additionally, the company has benefitted from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program at UB.

Co-founders included Brandon Bordeau and Toan Duc Nguyen, former students of the Balthasar lab, and Larry Wienkers, a pharmaceutical consultant who previously served as the vice president and global head of pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism at Amgen Inc. Bordeau, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, served as the startup’s chief executive officer.

The work of Abceutics is synergistic with an important emerging class of medicines called antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). ADCs consist of a monoclonal antibody coupled to a cytotoxic payload via a linker. The antibody component of an anticancer ADC specifically targets the medicine to particular cancer cells, and the cytotoxic payload uses highly potent cell-killing properties to then kill the targeted cancer cells.

The team engineered “payload-binding selectivity enhancers” (PBSEs) to bind and neutralize stray payload molecules, reducing the impact of these agents on otherwise healthy cells.

“PBSEs are intended to be administered along with ADCs to reduce the risk of side effects thereby potentially optimizing the therapeutic selectively and efficacy of ADC therapy,” said Balthasar.

David Weinstock, MD Ph.D., vice president of oncology discovery in Merck Research Laboratories, highlighted Abceutics’ success.

“The Abceutics team has already made remarkable progress in translating this novel idea into reality with a series of candidates and compelling early evidence,” he said. "We look forward to further evaluating the potential of this innovative approach in the clinic.”

Bordeau said the team is excited for Merck, based in Rahway, N.J., to continue to explore and develop the PBSE technology.

“Merck is recognized as a leader in cancer research and has the expertise and capabilities needed to bring our PBSE technology to patients,” Bordeau said. “We are proud to have advanced PBSEs to this stage of development and believe that Merck is well-suited to build upon the progress our company has made.”

Tags Tags: University at Buffalo , Research , START-UP NY

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