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Merck will acquire neurodegeneration start-up Caraway Therapeutics for a total of up to $610 million, including an undisclosed upfront payment and milestone payments. Caraway specializes in genetically defined neurodegenerative conditions, particularly for Parkinson’s, and rare disease. 

The biotech is a pioneer in the science of lysosomes—membrane-bound cell organelles that contain digestive enzymes. They break down excess or worn-out cell parts and can destroy invading viruses and bacteria. If a cell is damaged beyond repair, lysosomes can help it self-destruct through apoptosis.

Caraway’s pipeline includes three preclinical candidates against Parkinson’s and two compounds that target TRPML1, one against Parkinson’s and one against an unspecified rare disease. The first member of the mammalian mucolipin TRP channel subfamily, TRPML1, is a cation-permeable channel that is predominantly localized on the membranes of late endosomes and lysosomes in mammalian cells. 

“Caraway’s multidisciplinary approach has yielded important progress in evaluating novel mechanisms of modulation of lysosomal function with potential for the treatment of progressive neurodegenerative diseases,” said George Addona, senior vice president, discovery, preclinical development and translational medicine, Merck Research Laboratories. “We look forward to applying our expertise to build upon this work with the goal of developing much needed disease-modifying therapies for these conditions.”

Caraway is a preclinical biopharmaceutical company pursuing innovative approaches for the treatment of genetically defined neurodegenerative and rare diseases. The company has built a pipeline of small-molecule therapeutics for the treatment of genetically defined neurodegenerative and rare diseases. 

Commenting on the acquisition, Martin D. Williams, chief executive officer of Caraway said, “This important milestone is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Caraway team and our mission to develop therapeutics with the potential to alter the progression of devastating neurodegenerative diseases and help patients.”

He added that, “This acquisition leverages Merck’s industry-leading research and development capabilities to help further advance our discovery and preclinical programs. We thank and appreciate our investors, including SV Health Investors and its Dementia Discovery Fund, AbbVie Ventures, Amgen Ventures, Eisai Innovation and MRL Ventures Fund for their support.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck, through a subsidiary, will acquire all outstanding shares of Caraway with earn-out milestones associated with the development of certain pipeline candidates. Merck, through its MRL Ventures Fund, has been a shareholder of Caraway Therapeutics since 2018. Merck is known as MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme) outside of the United States and Canada, 

Cambridge, Mass-based Caraway is backed by investors that include SV Health Investors and its Dementia Discovery Fund, AbbVie Ventures, MRL Ventures Fund, Amgen Ventures, and Eisai Innovation. 

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