Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated (NASDAQ: VRTX) purchased another gene-editing biotech company last week, marking its fourth announced transaction of 2019. The pharmaceutical giant bought Semma Therapeutics for $950 million in an all-cash transaction for all of the company’s outstanding shares. Semma leverages stem cell-derived human islets to research potentially cures for type 1 diabetes. The biotech firm will become a separate operating subsidiary of Vertex and executives of Semma will join Vertex and remain in leadership positions at Semma.
After a hiatus in 2018, Vertex has been on a shopping spree this year to build its gene-editing platform and capabilities for various therapies. According to Coherent Market Insights, the CRISPR and gene editing market will reach $7.6 billion by 2026. In 2019, there have been 18 deals in the biotechnology sector focused on genetic research and discovery, adding to a total of $15.07 billion in announced prices, according to our Deal Search Online database, and Vertex helped drive those numbers up.
In January Vertex bought an exclusive license to two DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) inhibitors, M9831 (fka VX-984) and an additional pre-clinical compound, for six specific genetic disease indications from Merck KGaA, based in Darmstadt, Germany. Although no upfront price was disclosed, Merck will receive an upfront payment in addition to milestones and royalties on future net sales and retains the rights to both assets in all other disease areas in that deal.
The next two acquisitions were announced together in June. The first was a deal for Exonics Therapeutics for $245 million, plus $1 billion in potential milestones. Exonics develops gene-editing therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) and other severe genetic neuromuscular diseases. The target company has used SingleCut CRISPR to genetically repair and restore dystrophin, the key protein missing in children with DMD. Vertex gains intellectual property, technology and scientific expertise in transformative gene-editing therapies.
The second is the purchase of the license for DMD gene-editing therapies from CRISPR Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CRSP) for $175 million. This collaboration expands on an agreement CRISPR and Vertex made in 2015. Vertex will get exclusive worldwide rights to CRISPR Therapeutics’ existing and future intellectual property including foundational CRISPR/Cas9 technology.