Biogen to acquire gene therapy company Nightstar Therapeutics for $800M

The biotech company said the deal would allow it to strengthen its ophthalmology pipeline. It follows last week’s acquisition of Spark Therapeutics by Roche for $4.8 billion.

presented by

Just a week after Swiss drugmaker Roche announced it would acquire Spark Therapeutics, Biogen is taking a similar plunge into gene therapy.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company said Monday it would acquire London-based Nightstar Therapeutics for $800 million, or $25.50 per share. Shares of Nightstar were up more than 66 percent on the Nasdaq Monday morning following the news.

Biogen said the deal would allow it to establish a pipeline of gene therapy candidates in ophthalmology. This includes Nightstar’s lead drug candidate, NSR-REP1, which is in Phase III development for choroideremia, a rare genetic disorder that mostly affects males and leads to progressive vision loss. Biogen’s primary focus has been on neurological diseases, in particular multiple sclerosis.

Roche said last week it would acquire Spark – which also has a strong focus on ophthalmology – for $4.8 billion. Spark was the first company to win Food and Drug Administration approval for a gene therapy, Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec-rzyl), in December 2017, for patients who have inherited retinal disease due to mutations in the RPE65 gene.

Spark’s pipeline of gene therapy products in ophthalmology means Biogen is wading into similar waters. Among Spark’s therapy candidates is SPK-7001, which is in Phase I/II development for choroideremia. Both SPK-7001 and NSR-REP1 are adeno-associated viral vector, or AAV, gene therapies. Nightstar’s other therapy candidate in clinical development, NSR-RPGR, is in a Phase I/II trial for X-linked retinitis pigmentosa.

One difference between Spark and Nightstar is that the latter company’s pipeline is focused entirely on retinal diseases, whereas Spark also has therapies for blood disorders, lysosomal storage diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.

SVB Leerink analyst Joseph Schwartz wrote in a note to investors last week that the Roche-Spark deal indicated a continued interest among large pharmaceutical companies in acquiring firms that are developing gene therapies. In particular, while the size of the deal “seems steep,” it is potentially rationalized by an attraction to genetic retinal diseases.

Other gene therapy acquisitions that have occurred recently include Novartis’s acquisition last year of AveXis – which is focused on neurological disorders – for $8.7 billion, and Pfizer’s 2016 acquisition of Bamboo Therapeutics, for $700 million.

Photo: designer491, Getty Images