After being the market titan in neurology and immunology, UCB acquires Handl Therapeutics BV, a Belgium based venture developing in vivo gene therapy to treat complex neurodegenerative diseases. UCB also forged a collaboration with Lacerta Therapeutics, a USA based company with a proprietary AAV capsid technology platform and scalable manufacturing platform developing AAV-based therapies. With both these deals, UCB aims to expand its offerings in CNS space and offer diverse treatment modalities for neurodegenerative diseases. These strategic collaborations are building further on UCB’s acquisition of Element Genomics, Inc. in 2018 to consolidate UCB’s research on genomics and epigenomics to identify novel drug targets.
Through this acquisition, UCB will tap into Handl Therapeutics’ AAV capsid technology with Lacerta Therapeutics leading the research, preclinical activities, and early manufacturing process development, while UCB will lead IND-enabling studies, manufacturing, and clinical development of the AAV- based therapies for in rare neurological disorders. The three ventures’ collaboration brings together their strengths in AAV-based gene therapy for rare neurological diseases, clinical expertise, and manufacturing capabilities.
Launched in 2019, Handl therapeutics has developed expertise in vivo gene therapy targeted at complex neurodegenerative diseases through strategic collaborations and building a strong network with academic and institutional partners. It merges scientific advances licensed from, Centre for Applied Medical Research (CIMA Universidad de Navarra, Spain), University of Chile (Chile), King’s College London (UK), and KU Leuven (Belgium), with state-of-the-art technology. On the other hand, Lacerta Therapeutics has been expanding its research capabilities and received an equity investment from Sarepta along with an agreement to develop AAV-based therapies for multiple diseases.
These deals by UCB adds to the wagon of gene therapy deals observed recently with rampant deal-making headed by a few large players expanding their capabilities through the entire continuum of gene therapy research and development and manufacturing capabilities. Some notable other deals observed recently include Pfizer’s USD 60 million equity investment in Homology Medicines, a company developing phenylketonuria (PKU) gene therapies, Roche’s option and non-exclusive license agreement with Cevec to utilize its platform for gene therapy manufacturing, Horizon Discovery’s acquisition by PerkinElmer Inc., Ultragenyx’s collaboration with Solid Biosciences and Bayers acquisition of AskBio. Gene therapy research has mostly been spearheaded at academic or research institutions and by smaller companies with established competency in upstream and downstream research and innovation. With more mainstream big pharma players hopping on to the gene therapy bandwagon, the timing of participation in the developmental pipeline is crucial to realize value several years down the line when these experimental therapies reach the market. The recent spree of investment momentum reflects the same sentiment, with most companies opting for the collaboration/acquisition route to build their capabilities in the space.