Merck & Co has entered into a collaboration with Ambrx to develop 'smart bomb' antibodies.

Specifically, the US major hopes to develop biologic drug conjugates based on Ambrx's "site-specific protein medicinal chemistry technology". Cashwise, Merck is paying an upfront fee of $15 million and is eligible to receive milestones totalling up to $288 million. In addition, Ambrx will also get royalties.

Richard Murray, head of biologics and vaccines research at Merck, noted that "collaborations are an important part of our strategy to develop a portfolio of next-generation protein therapeutics". He added that the agreement "will allow us to combine Ambrx's expertise in site-specific protein conjugation chemistry with Merck's expanding antibody capabilities and extensive small molecule resources".

The philosophy behind this strategy is to combine the targeting properties of biologics "with the potent therapeutic properties of small molecules", Merck said, and look for new ways to deliver compounds to their site of action "while minimising the potential for systemic effects". This so-called 'smart bomb' approach basically aims at destroying diseased cells without damaging healthy tissue.