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Pfizer ‘bids €1.5bn’ for CAR-T specialist Cellectis

French immuno-oncology biotech reported to be next on pharma giant's hit list

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French biotech Cellectis is rumoured to be the next acquisition target for Pfizer as the US pharma major works out how to use its large overseas cash pile.

A report in the Financial Times - citing two people familiar with the situation - indicates that Pfizer has offered around €1.5bn ($1.6bn) to take full control of Cellectis, which is focusing on the development of cancer drugs. Pfizer already owns a near-10% stake in the French biotech, which raised $228m in an initial public offering on the Nasdaq in March.

Cellectis is among a clutch of companies working on one of the hottest topics in immuno-oncology, namely the development of chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) based treatments.  

Companies developing CAR-T technologies have been hotly pursued as acquisition targets in recent months, as the approach promises to provide a broadly applicable approach to cancer therapy.  

For example, Merck Serono agreed a  $941m alliance with Intrexon in March, while Amgen cut a $1bn deal with Kite Pharma in January and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is paying up to $625m for rights to MacroGenics' MGD011 candidate in a deal signed last year.

The CAR-T therapeutic approach typically involves taking T cells from a patient, engineering them to recognise and hone in on cancer surface proteins and then re-infusing them as an anti-tumour therapy. 

Cellectis is taking a different tack, however, trying to develop a universal therapy that could be used in any patient without the need for harvesting T cells. If achieved, that would be much easier to administer and cheaper - an important consideration given the current debate over the escalating cost of cancer therapy.

A Pfizer bid for control of the whole company would make sense, as the firm has clearly identified immuno-oncology as a key R&D priority in the coming years. 

A $2.85bn alliance with Merck KGaA last year added a drug on the coveted PD-1 inhibitor class to its armamentarium - albeit one well behind rivals such as Merck & Co's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo (nivolumab) - and has given it platform to build on in the category.

Meanwhile, there has been renewed speculation that Pfizer might still be pursuing a mega-merger after its aborted attempt to take over AstraZeneca (AZ) last year - with attention focused on a bid for weakened GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) but AZ, Shire and Perrigo also in the frame.

The company has shown however that in the meantime it is prepared to add to its portfolio via smaller deals, and is in the process of absorbing injectable generic specialist Hospira for $17bn.

It is clear Pfizer still needs to make use of its cash reserves - it faces a hefty tax burden if it repatriates the money - and must also boost a pipeline that is deemed a little sparse for a company of its size.

Article by
Phil Taylor

29th May 2015

From: Sales

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