Astellas buys Audentes in gene-therapy deal

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Astellas Pharma Inc. agreed to buy Audentes Therapeutics Inc. for about $3 billion, the latest deal by a pharmaceutical company eager to push into promising gene-therapy technologies.

The Japanese drugmaker will pay $60 a share for San Francisco-based Audentes, according to a statement from the companies, a 110% premium to Audentes’s closing price on Monday. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2020.

Astellas is targeting gene therapy as a key driver for the company’s growth. Gene therapy is a promising new area of medicine that has sparked growing enthusiasm as well as a flurry of deals. Roche Holding AG earlier this year agreed to buy Spark Therapeutics Inc. for $4.8 billion, while Novartis AG last year made an $8.7 billion deal for AveXis Inc.

Astellas said its deal with Audentes will help it accelerate the development of genetics medicines for rare neuromuscular diseases. A leading drug in Audentes’s pipeline is AT132, a treatment for X-Linked Myotubular Myopathy, a life-threatening neuromuscular disease.

“Audentes has developed a robust pipeline of promising product candidates which are complementary to our existing pipeline,” Kenji Yasukawa, chief executive officer of Astellas, said in the statement.

The acquisition is the latest by Japanese drugmakers, which have seen a wave of deals over the past year. Last month, Asahi Kasei Corp. agreed to buy Denmark’s Veloxis Pharmaceuticals A/S for about $1.3 billion. Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. this year closed its $62 billion takeover of Shire Plc as the Japanese company seeks to transform itself into a global drugmaker.

The premium Astellas is paying is in line with recent trends, according to Jefferies analysts Stephen Barker and Naoya Miura. While Audentes’ treatments such as AT132 look promising, “the real significance of this deal is what it represents in terms of Astellas’ commitment to gene therapy,” they wrote in a note Tuesday.

The analysts added that beyond the Audentes deal, Astellas has solid growth prospects, driven by existing treatments such as xtandi for prostate cancer and new drugs such as roxadustat for anemia.

Bloomberg News