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Gene therapy progress spurs competition in biotech buyouts

  • Drugmakers looking to buy their way into gene therapy are finding healthy competition for promising biotechs, regulatory filings from recent takeovers show, underscoring the renewed momentum behind a field seeking one-time treatments for genetic diseases.
  • Most recently, retinal disease specialist Nightstar Therapeutics fielded interest over the course of seven months from four drugmakers, including Biogen, before eventually agreeing to a twice-revised offer from the big biotech that valued Nightstar at $25.50 per share, or roughly $800 million.
  • As in the case of Roche’s $4.8 billion takeover of Spark Therapeutics last month and Novartis’ $8.7 billion buy of AveXislast year, competing bids drove up the price eventually paid to secure each gene therapy developer.

Nightstar is the third gene therapy-focused biotech to be acquired by a larger drugmaker since the landmark approval in late 2017 of Spark Therapeutics’​ Luxturna (voertigene neparvovec) — the first gene therapy for an inherited disease to be OK’d in the U.S.

In each case, regulatory filings show multiple parties were interested in a takeover or partnership. That’s not always a given, even in therapeutic areas like oncology that are currently attracting surging levels of drugmaker investment.

For example, Tesaro, a cancer biotech with an approved drug on the market, received only one formal takeover bid during a roughly 18-month period in which the company was reviewing strategic alternatives. That bid, from GlaxoSmithKline, ended up securing what became a $5.1 billion deal.

Similarly, Eli Lilly submitted the only bid to buy Loxo Oncology, although the pharma’s push to complete a deal in a roughly two-week timeline could disguise broader buyout interest in Loxo.

In both the case of AveXis and Spark, competing bids appear to have helped drive up the price eventually paid by Novartis and Roche, respectively.