Merck Fosters Healthcare of the Future - McDermott Will & Emery

Merck Fosters Healthcare of the Future


Artificial intelligence and machine learning have led a digital transformation in healthcare, expanding providers’ resources and improving the lives of people around the world. To continue pushing the boundaries of possibility in the industry, Merck proposed a plan to help accelerate innovative technologies for drug discovery and development—and bring those innovations to market.

The company decided to launch a new venture called the Merck Digital Sciences Studio (MDSS), which would support promising biomedical startups and entrepreneurs with direct investment, access to powerful Azure Cloud computing and opportunities to pilot their technologies in collaboration with discovery and clinical scientists at Merck.


To build a successful, bespoke program from the ground up, Merck needed a legal partner to coordinate with investors and collaborators, manage relationships, determine governance, draft the necessary documents and help with ongoing administration once the program was operational.

Led by Todd Finger as part of a wide offering of life sciences- and healthcare-related services, a McDermott team partnered closely with Merck to design and bring MDSS to life.


MDSS launched in June 2022, with an expectation of fielding 15-20 applications to fill 12 available spots. Within a few months, the program had more than 150 applicants.

Throughout the year prior to the launch, the McDermott team worked with Merck to orchestrate this entirely new, custom-tailored venture with the six companies and investors involved. Shaping the program and aligning the interests of all parties in the legal agreements and documentation required creative thinking and careful relationship management.

MDSS is a collaboration between Merck and the New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII), a highly regarded innovator in healthcare and life sciences, which aims to provide MDSS with a pipeline of talented entrepreneurs. Another party, Microsoft, will deliver technology support for MDSS through Azure Cloud computing. In addition to working with Merck, NJII and Microsoft, the McDermott team coordinated with several investors: the Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, Northpond Ventures and McKesson Ventures.

McDermott remains involved in the program post-launch, participating in regular operations meetings with Merck as they select the first cohort of participants and get MDSS up and running.


In addition to supporting digital healthcare innovation, the MDSS initiative will allow Merck and its partners to invest in promising startup companies, operating with the companies and with each other in a coordinated, effective way.

Learn more about our venture capital and healthcare capabilities.