Astellas enters into the gene therapy market with $3bn acquisition

Astellas has announced its acquisition of Audentes Therapeutics for $3bn, adding a late-stage candidate for a rare disease into its portfolio.

This move fits well into Astellas recent strategy of streamlining its R&D operations, where it has been cutting programmes and staff to focus on its self-proclaimed key areas of immuno-oncology, cell therapies in ophthalmology and mitochondria-targeting small-molecules for neuromuscular diseases.

The Audentes deal not only provides gene therapy as a fifth platform technology but also a neuromuscular treatment, AT132, which is a candidate for the treatment of X-linked myotubular myopathy (XLMTM). XLMTM is a rare, genetic, neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness that can range from mild to life-threatening.

As it is a rare disease, XLMTM only affects approximately 40,000- 50,000 newborn males, so there is a small indication. However, as Audentes treatment is a gene therapy, it will command high prices, as shown by Novartis spinal muscular atrophy therapy, Zolgensma, which is now the most expensive drug in the world, pushing the therapy to $160m in sales in its first full quarter in the market.
Astellas stated that gene therapy will be a ‘key driver’ for the company in the future and intends to let Audentes operate as an independent subsidiary, allowing to keep its flexible operation but also to tap into Astellas scientific resources. A benefit for Astellas is the fact that Audentes comes with its own gene therapy manufacturing site, a high valued asset considering the lack of production capacity for gene therapies.

Analysts say that Astellas did pay a premium for Audentes, at a quoted value of 110% premium on the share value. However this follows the recent trend of gene therapy acquisitions such as Novartis $8.7bn AveXis takeover and Roches $4.3bn takeover of Spark Therapeutics.

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