As the recent spate of deal-making in pharma continues, Merck & Co said it is shelling out $100 million for access to Moderna’s messenger RNA Therapeutics platform to develop new antiviral vaccines and passive immunity therapies.

Moderna has designed a novel in vivo drug technology able to produce human proteins, antibodies and entirely novel protein constructs inside patient cells, which are then secreted or active intracellularly. According to the firm, “this breakthrough platform addresses currently undruggable targets and offers a superior alternative to existing drug modalities for a wide range of disease conditions”.

In a strong show of confidence in the technology, Merck said it will pay the biotech $50 million upfront in cash coupled with a $50 million equity investment, to bind a three-year research collaboration focused on the development of new mRNA-based treatments and vaccines against four undisclosed viruses.

Under the deal, Merck can put up to five product candidates on the market, for which Moderna will get development and commercial milestones as well as tiered sales-based royalties. Merck will lead the discovery and development of candidates and commercialisation of any products, while Moderna will design and synthesise the messenger RNA product candidates directed against selected targets.

"By combining Merck's strength in vaccine and antiviral therapeutic development with Moderna's mRNA Therapeutics technology we are well positioned to develop differentiated candidates with the potential to provide meaningful benefit to patients," said Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, commenting on the deal.

Earlier this month Moderna hit the headlines by managing to raise a whopping $450 million investment, in what is reportedly the largest-ever private financing round for any biotech. The group already has mRNA deals with AstraZeneca and Alexion.