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Bayer takes control of BlueRock stem cell joint venture

Deal values BlueRock at $1bn

Bayer

Bayer is buying out private equity partner Versant Ventures and founders in its cell therapy joint venture BlueRock Therapeutics for $240m, three years after setting up the company.

The decision gives Bayer complete control of BlueRock’s cell therapy pipeline headed by a candidate for Parkinson’s disease that is due to start clinical trials this year and spanning various diseases in the neurology, cardiology and immunology categories.

BlueRock was set upin late 2016 with $225m in start-up funding from Bayer and investment firm Versant, shortly after Bayer backed gene-editing specialist Casebia via its Leaps by Bayer investment arm.

Bayer has held a 41% stake in the company since then, and taking overall control suggests it is impressed with the platform BlueRock has built in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

In addition to the $240m buyout fee, Bayer has also agreed to pay Versant an additional $360m tied to various preclinical and early clinical development milestones across its pipeline programmes. The deal values BlueRock at around $1bn.

The lead programme in Parkinson’s centres on BlueRock’s ability to encourage PSCs to differentiate into the dopaminergic neurons that are progressively destroyed in the disease. The hope is that introducing these neurons into areas of the brain where neurons are depleted will lead to increased dopamine release, restoring motor function.

BlueRock is also developing iPSCs that differentiate into microglia, oligodendrocytes and eneic neurons for neurology applications, cardiomyocytes for heart failure, as well as macrophages and T regulatory cells for immunology applications including immune tolerance, fibrosis and graft-versus-host disease (GvHD).

Kemal Malik, Bayer board member for innovation, said taking control of the JV represents “the foundation for an iPSC-based cell therapy portfolio”, although it's not the company’s only foray into this area.

In April, Leaps by Bayer made an undisclosed investment in US-based biotech Khloris Biosciences, which specialises in using iPSCs as prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines, using them as a vehicle to carry tumour-associated antigens.

The venture unit followed that a few weeks later with a $215m investment in Century Therapeutics, with additional backing for the company coming from Versant and Fujifilm Cellular Dynamics. The start-up intends to develop off-the-shelf CAR-T-like cell therapies for blood cancers as well as solid tumours based in iPSCs

Article by
Phil Taylor

9th August 2019

From: Sales

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