Vertex adds to deal spree with $950m for biotech seeking diabetes cure

By Ben Hargreaves contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/CIPhotos)
(Image: Getty/CIPhotos)

Related tags: Vertex, Semma Therapeutics, Gene therapy, Type 1 diabetes, Cystic fibrosis, Stem cells

Vertex is set to acquire Semma, which is developing a stem cell curative treatment for type 1 diabetes and expects the deal to ‘rapidly advance’ its potential therapy.

Unusually for the purchase of a pre-clinical stage biotech, Vertex will pay all $950m (€863m) in upfront cash to acquire the outstanding shares of Semma Therapeutics, rather than backload the deal with milestone payments.

The acquired biotech will become a separate operating subsidiary of Vertex, which will see Bastiano Sanna, its current CEO, become president of the unit.

The deal means Vertex will acquire technology able to create stem cell-derived human islets being explored as a potential cure for type 1 diabetes.

Semma’s research has seen it develop the ability to manufacture functional human pancreatic beta cells, which it is investigating for transplantation into humans to produce insulin.

In addition, the biotech has paired this approach with a device that encapsulates and protects the cells from being destroyed by the body’s immune system – thereby removing the need for immunosuppressive treatments.

At present, the technology has only been explored in pre-clinical, animal studies, but Sanna, CEO of Semma, expects development to progress at a faster pace with Vertex on board.

He said, “Vertex has a proven track record of serial innovation and a deep commitment to developing transformative therapies for patients in need. Being a part of Vertex will allow the Semma team to rapidly and effectively advance our cell therapy and delivery approaches to patients who need them.”

The deal with Semma is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Vertex adds to portfolio

Vertex currently holds a portfolio of treatments for cystic fibrosis, with three approved treatments and seven ongoing clinical trials looking at new combination treatments for the condition. The company is also exploring gene editing and mRNA therapies aimed at targeting the underlying genetic causes of the disease.

Wider than this, Vertex has instigated several acquisitions this year, which has seen the biotech expand its position in the gene therapy space. In June​, it acquired Exonics Therapeutics for $245m to pick up a potential treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, as well as an extended collaboration agreement with CRISPR Therapeutics.

A previous deal, signed off in January of this year​, saw Vertex partner with Arbor Biotechnologies for the discovery of gene therapies in cystic fibrosis and four other potential disease areas.

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