Bayer Takes AskBio in $4 Billion Deal

29.10.2020 - In its biggest pharma acquisition since the 2006 takeover of Berlin-based women’s specialist Schering, Bayer plans to plunk down up to $4 billion for US biotech firm Asklepios BioPharmaceutical (AskBio). Under the agreed terms, Bayer will pay $2 billion upfront and up to $2 billion more, contingent on certain success milestones.

Following closing of the transaction, expected by the end of 2020, the Leverkusen-based pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals giant said it will own full rights to AskBio’s gene therapy platform, including a broad intellectual property portfolio and an established CDMO organization, thereby laying the foundation for future partnerships in the area of adeno-associated virus (AAV) therapies.

After saying some years ago it would put the brakes on original drugs R&D, Bayer had been looking for drug-development partnerships or deals to license drugs in promising stages of clinical development. In the interim, analysts have been increasingly critical of the group’s perceived foot dragging, especially as two of its top-selling drugs, anti-coagulant Xarelto and Eylea, an eye treatment for age-related degeneration, will soon start to lose patent protection.

With AskBio, based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Bayer will be able to close gaps in categories where it has been weak or absent up to now, thereby fulfilling several of its goals. The US biotech is specialized in research, development and manufacturing of gene therapies and currently has therapeutics in early phases of clinical development to treat neuromuscular, central nervous system, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, including Pompe disease, Parkinson’s disease and congestive heart failure.

The addition of AskBio to its own emerging cell and gene therapy (CGT) business, Bayer said, will strengthen its commitment to the field after the 2019 acquisition of BlueRock Therapeutics and consolidates its ambition to create platforms with the potential to have an impact in multiple therapeutic areas.

To preserve its entrepreneurial culture as an essential pillar for nurturing successful innovation, the US biotech said it will continue to operate as an independent company on an arm’s-length basis. At the same time, Bayer's newly established CGT unit will bundle the group’s own activities in this area, thus helping establish an “internal innovation ecosystem.”

In an investor call, Stefan Oelrich, CEO of Bayer’s pharmaceutical segment, said the acquisition of AskBio is slightly larger than the pharma deals the group had been seeking; however, he was convinced after the first phone call with the biotech’s co-founders, Richard Jude Samulski and Sheila Mikhail, that it would be the “perfect fit.”

Samulski, who pioneered the use of adeno-associated viruses as vehicles to replace a defective gene with a healthy gene, is currently chief scientific officer of AskBio, and Mikhail is CEO.  In a 2016 transaction, the company sold its Bamboo Therapeutics arm to Pfizer, as the US drugs giant sought to boost its presence in the treatment of rare diseases.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist