Merck will pay the microbiome company 4D Pharma up to €316.5M to develop vaccines based on delivering live bacteria to the gut.

The partners will develop vaccines against three undisclosed conditions. As well as an undisclosed upfront fee for each condition, 4D Pharma will be eligible to receive up to €316.5M ($347.5M) in developmental milestones. In addition, 4D Pharma will have the option of receiving a €4.6M ($5M) investment from Merck over the next 12 months. 

4D Pharma develops treatments that consist of live bacterial strains taken from fecal samples of healthy donors. The company screens the bacteria’s genomes and their effect on the gut to select those with the potential to develop a therapy. 4D Pharma’s most advanced therapy is in phase II trials for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, with other treatments in the pipeline for cancer and asthma. The vaccine programs in development with Merck concern the use of live bacteria as vaccines, a technology that is still in 4D Pharma’s preclinical pipeline.

We hope to gain meaningful insights into the role of the host microbiome in modulating the immune response and ultimately protection conferred by vaccines,” Daria Hazuda, CSO of Merck’s Exploratory Science Center, stated.

The human microbiome is widely believed to influence how the immune system reacts to vaccines. Last year, for example, a Dutch research group treated patients with antibiotics before giving them a viral vaccine, and found that the antibiotics boosted the effects of the vaccine.


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