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Vertex eyes type 1 diabetes cure with biotech acquisition

Will acquire Semma Therapeutics for $950m


American pharma company Vertex will acquire Semma Therapeutics, a biotech focused on finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. 

Vertex will pay $950m in cash for the Cambridge, MA-based biotech, and will acquire all outstanding shares of the company. Semma will become a subsidiary of Vertex, while the biotech’s CEO Bastiano Sanna is set to join Vertex to continue as the president of Semma.

Semma was founded to develop therapies for type 1 diabetes patients who depend on insulin injections. According to Vertex, the biotech is pioneering the use of stem cells as a potential cure for type 1 diabetes. The biotech has advanced the ability to produce large quantities of functional human pancreatic beta cells that restore insulin production and ameliorate hypoglycaemia in animal tests.

In addition to this breakthrough, the biotech has created a device that captures and protects these cells from the immune system, which in turn allows durable implantation without the need for ongoing immunosuppressive therapy.


Jeff Leiden, president and CEO of Vertex

“This acquisition aligns perfectly with our strategy of investing in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases in specialty markets,” said Jeff Leiden (pictured above).

“We are excited to work with the talented scientists at Semma to build on their significant progress toward providing effective and potentially curative cell therapy options for people living with type 1 diabetes,” he added.

This acquisition follows a string of deals from Vertex, which is seeking to diversify its portfolio beyond its cystic fibrosis franchise. The company has been a pioneer in the CF therapy area, and recently filed its landmark triple combination therapy with the FDA. If approved, the therapy could transform the treatment of the disease, and could be used to treatup to 90% of all cystic fibrosis patients worldwide.

Earlier this year, Vertex also eyed the market for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, when it made a deal to acquire US biotech Exonics Therapeutics. Exonics is developing gene-editing therapies for DMD and other genetic neuromuscular disease. Vertex paid $245m upfront for the CRISPR/Cas-9-focused company, with another $750m in the future in milestone payments.

The pharma company then paid $175m upfront to expand its collaboration with the Swiss company CRISPR Therapeutics, with milestones that could drive the value of the deal above the $1bn mark. That deal also focuses on gene-editing technology directed at DMD and DM1.

Following the acquisition of Semma, Vertex is likely to find a rival in Novo Nordisk, which last year said it has reached a milestone in the same area of stem cell therapy in type 1 diabetes. The first clinical trials for both companies could begin within the next few years, setting up a potential race to first-in-class.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

4th September 2019

From: Sales



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