Gene Therapy Pioneer AskBio Agrees to Blockbuster Acquisition by Bayer
Asklepios BioPharmaceutical (AskBio), a gene therapy company born in Chapel Hill 19 years ago and supported in its early years by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, will be acquired by Bayer AG, the German healthcare and agriculture conglomerate, for up to $4 billion.
The acquisition is the third largest buyout of a home-grown North Carolina bioscience company, trailing Salix’s acquisition by Valeant in 2015 for $11 billion and Quintiles’ acquisition by IMS Health in 2016 for $8.9 billion, according to the Biotech Center’s Life Science Intelligence group.
Bayer will acquire AskBio for $2 billion up front and up to $2 billion more in payments if certain milestones are reached. About 75 percent of the potential milestone payments are expected to be due within the next five years, the companies said in a news release announcing the buyout.
“With this acquisition, Bayer significantly advances the establishment of a cell and gene therapy platform that can be at the forefront of breakthrough science contributing to, preventing, or even curing diseases caused by gene defects and further driving company growth in the future,” said Werner Baumann, chairman of the board of management of Bayer.
Bayer will own AskBio’s gene therapy platform, including a broad intellectual property portfolio and a contract development and manufacturing organization based on adeno-associated virus (AAV) therapies. AAVs are small viruses that can be engineered to carry therapeutic genes into human cells for the potential treatment of genetic diseases, particularly those caused by a single genetic defect.
AskBio’s portfolio includes pre-clinical and clinical-stage development candidates for the treatment of neuromuscular, central nervous system, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases such as Pompe disease, Parkinson’s disease and congestive heart failure, as well as out-licensed clinical candidates for hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
AskBio’s technology and manufacturing processes will give Bayer “the tools to provide gene therapy solutions to more people suffering from a wider spectrum of diseases that is not being adequately treated today,” said R. Jude Samulski, Ph.D., chief scientific officer and co-founder of AskBio.
AskBio will continue to operate as an independent company “on an arm’s-length basis to preserve its entrepreneurial culture as an essential pillar for nurturing successful innovation,” under terms of the acquisition.
“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, position us to provide accelerated development of gene therapies to treat more patients who can benefit from them,” said Sheila Mikhail, CEO and co-founder of AskBio.
The addition of AskBio strengthens Bayer’s growing cell and gene therapy business. Bayer also bought BlueRock Therapeutics of Cambridge, Mass., in 2019.
“As an emerging leader in the rapidly advancing field of gene therapies, AskBio’s expertise and portfolio support us in establishing highly innovative treatment options for patients and further strengthen our portfolio,” said Stefan Oelrich, member of the Board of Management and president of Bayer’s Pharmaceuticals Division. “We want to help patients whose medical needs are not yet met by today’s treatment options, and we are looking forward to pursuing this important work with the AskBio team.”
AskBio is located in Research Triangle Park, where it employs more than 300 people,
The company has generated hundreds of proprietary, third-generation AAV capsids and promoters, several of which have entered clinical testing. The company holds more than 500 patents.
Since its founding in 2001, AskBio has spun out four gene therapy companies: NanoCor Therapeutics, Chatham Therapeutics, Bamboo Therapeutics and Actus Therapeutics. Chatham was acquired by Baxter International (now Takeda) for $70 million up front with additional milestone payments, and Bamboo was acquired by Pfizer for $150 million up front plus up to $495 million in milestone payments.
In May 2019 AskBio raised $225 million in equity funding and another $10 million from founders and board members. AskBio’s minority shareholders, TPG Capital and Vida Ventures, support Bayer’s acquisition, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Early work by Samulski at AskBio and related entities was supported by grants and loans from the Biotechnology Center totaling about $1 million. The support included a $250,000 grant that helped recruit Samulski, the first scientist to clone AAV, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh in 1993. He directed UNC’s Gene Therapy Center for 25 years.