Backed with billions of dollars from sales of its COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna has been on a global shopping trip for smaller biotech firms that can expand or improve the company’s messenger RNA technology. On Wednesday, the Cambridge vaccine maker announced its first purchase.
Moderna will pay $85 million to acquire the tiny Japanese biotech company OriCiro Genomics for its tools and methods for making synthetic DNA molecules, the genetic code used as a template for creating the mRNA molecules in Moderna’s vaccines and therapies.
“OriCiro’s technology strategically complements our manufacturing expertise and further accelerates our research and development engine,” Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.
The purchase is less than half a percent of the $18 billion and $19 billion it previously said it expects to make in 2022 from sales of its COVID vaccines and booster shots.
Tokyo-based OriCiro was founded in 2018 to develop new methods for synthesizing and amplifying large DNA molecules with enzymes in test tubes, rather than with bacteria usually employed for the process. The synthetic approach may allow scientists to create more DNA molecules more quickly and without the time-consuming purification process required when working with bacteria.
In May, Bancel told the Globe that Moderna’s business development team was “very busy looking at a lot of things,” and investors have anticipated that Moderna would bring new technologies under its roof as it aims to expand applications of its mRNA technology beyond COVID vaccines.
In late 2021, the firm partnered with the gene editing company Metagenomi and in early 2022 it struck a collaboration with the cell therapy company Carisma Therapeutics. While those deals could help Moderna expand its growing pipeline of experimental therapies, the OriCiro acquisition is focused on streamlining the manufacturing process at the core of all of its potential products.