Astellas is still struggling to close its $379M Ocata buyout

Yoshihiko Hatanaka

When Astellas signed a deal to acquire Ocata Therapeutics ($OCAT) in November, it expected the company's shareholders to accept its $8.50-a-share offer within 20 days. But a group of jilted Ocata investors has refused to budge, agitating for a better return and forcing the Japanese drugmaker to prolong the process.

Astellas has again extended the tender offer period, setting a new deadline of Feb. 9 for Ocata shareholders to take the buyout. The company had first expected to close the deal in December, later pushing the cutoff to Thursday, which passed without closure.

The $379 million offer presented a 79% premium to Ocata share value when it was announced, and management heralded it as an ideal end for a company with a long, up-and-down history in drug development. But a dedicated group of shareholders contends the offer undervalues Ocata, and they have reached out to potential white knights, elected officials and federal regulators in hopes of fetching a higher price.

The problem, Ocata shareholders say, is that Astellas' bid focuses solely on Ocata's stem cell assets in ophthalmology without accounting for the company's preclinical projects in autoimmune and other diseases.

For its part, Astellas remains "excited about the combination of Astellas and Ocata and (is) fully committed to achieving a successful completion of the transaction," CEO Yoshihiko Hatanaka said in a statement. "… We believe that Astellas' offer represents an attractive proposal to Ocata's shareholders, and we look forward to closing the tender offer at the end of this offering period."

Ocata, formerly Advanced Cell Technology, is among the pioneers of therapeutic stem cell development, enduring the field's peaks and valleys since its foundation in 1994. The company has flirted with penny-stock territory and endured multiple reorganizations ever since. Taking the name Ocata in 2014, the biotech has since narrowed its focus to treatments for disorders of the eye, advancing clinical programs in Stargardt's disease and macular degeneration.

- read the statement

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