Merck paying $780M to acquire Indianapolis drug manufacturer

Germany-based pharmaceutical giant Merck on Thursday announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Indianapolis-based drug contract manufacturer Exelead Inc. for about $780 million in cash.

Exelead specializes in making complex injectable formulations, including the lipid nanoparticle-based drug delivery technology that is key in mRNA therapeutics for use in COVID-19 vaccines and many other indications.

Merck said the transaction is expected to close in the first quarter and is subject to regulatory clearances as well as the satisfaction of other customary closing conditions.

The German company said it intends to continue to invest in mRNA and “scale up” the technology at Exelead’s existing site in Indianapolis.

Exelead, with headquarters at 6925 Guion Road on the northwest side, has manufactured and shipped tens of millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has been expanding its facilities to keep up with demand.

An 11-year-old private company, Exelead is the only outside contract manufacturer in the U.S. to make the Pfizer vaccine, according to an October IBJ interview with CEO John Rigg, a former senior director at Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. who managed the company’s insulin manufacturing operations.

Exelead recently expanded into a fourth building in Indianapolis to house quality control laboratories, packaging and some manufacturing. In October, it was in the process of hiring dozens of new workers, pushing its workforce from 140 at the beginning of the 2021 to 250 by the end.

Job openings included scientists and engineers with an average salary of $70,000 to $80,000, Rigg said. It also was hiring manufacturing operators with wages of $22 to $25 an hour.

Exelead announced in May it had delivered its first batch of vaccines to Pfizer. The huge drugmaker’s partner in the vaccine, German-based BioNTech SE, has long been a client of Exelead, Rigg said. Exelead has other manufacturing programs going with BioNTech, and about 20 programs with other clients.

Exelead was formed in 2010 as Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals and rebranded in 2017 under its current name. “Exelead” is a combination of the words “excellence” and “leading,” Rigg said.

The company specializes in manufacturing biologics, gene therapies and vaccines. It provides medicines through its clients network to more than 20 countries. It is wholly owned subsidiary of Essetifin SpA of Rome, Italy.

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