Bayer paying up to $4B for gene therapy pioneer AskBio

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Deepening its commitment to gene therapy, Bayer is paying $2 billion upfront to purchase a pioneer in the field, Asklepios BioPharmaceutical, known as AskBio.

The deal, expected to close in the fourth quarter, includes the potential for another $2 billion in milestone payments, with about 75% of the additional money potentially coming in the next five years, according to a press release from Bayer.

Bayer said it plans to pair AskBio with its existing cell and gene therapy platforms but keep AskBio functioning independently in a bid to preserve its entrepreneurial culture.

“As an emerging leader in the rapidly advancing field of gene therapies, the expertise and portfolio of AskBio supports us in establishing highly innovative treatment options for patients and further strengthens our portfolio,” Stefan Oelrich, a Bayer board member and president of its pharmaceuticals division, said in a statement.

Founded in 2001 and based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, AskBio brings a nearly 20-year track record of innovation in adeno-associated virus gene therapy under the direction of co-founder Richard Jude Samulski. The company’s pipeline includes treatments in the early phases of clinical development for Pompe disease, Parkinson’s disease and congestive heart failure.

The deal with Bayer also includes a gene-therapy manufacturing facility in San Sebastian, Spain, that AskBio launched in 2017 through a joint venture with Columbus Venture Partners, a Spanish investment management company.

A research report from MorningStar described the acquisition as a “needed boost to the firm’s drug pipeline in areas of unmet clinical need” especially in the context of the 2024 expiration of Bayer’s patent on Xarelto, the blockbuster drug that helps to reduce the risk of stroke and blood clots in people who have atrial fibrillation that is not caused by a problem related to heart valves.

Bayer is not the first big pharma player to take an interest in AskBio’s work. The company has spun off two subsidiaries that were subsequently gobbled up by larger firms. In 2014, Chatham Therapeutics, which focused on hemophilia, was bought by Baxter International. Two years later Pfizer bought Bamboo Therapeutics, which focused on Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

In April 2019 AskBio raised $225 million from investment firms TPG Capital and Vida Ventures, according to the company’s website.

“With Bayer’s worldwide reach and translational expertise, especially in pathway diseases, our combined cultures of scientific advancement and commitment to patients, along with the retention of AskBio’s independent structure, Bayer and AskBio are positioned to provide accelerated development of gene therapies to treat more patients who can benefit from them,” Sheila Mikhail, CEO and co-founder of AskBio, said in a statement.



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