Astellas buys DMD drug in $450M mitochondrial takeover

Astellas has acquired its partner Mitobridge in a deal worth up to $450 million. The takeover gives Astellas full control of a phase 1 Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) drug in return for $225 million upfront and the same again down the line.

Tokyo, Japan-based Astellas first hooked up with Mitobridge, then known as Mitokyne, in 2013 to access a source of candidates designed to improve mitochondrial function. That landed Astellas an option to buy Mitobridge at certain points over the next five years as part of a package that could ultimately be worth $730 million to the biotech and its investors.

Astellas’ decision to take up its option means it will pay at least a sizable slice of that amount. The upfront component of the takeover is valued at $225 million, although Astellas will only pay $165 million once its existing stake in Mitobridge is factored in. Astellas is on the hook for a further $225 million in clinical milestones. 

The centerpiece of the acquisition is MA-2011, a PPAR-delta modulator that moved into phase 1 tests in healthy volunteers earlier this year. If all goes to plan, MA-2011 will advance into testing in patients with DMD. 

MA-2011 is designed to reverse the mitochondrial defects that contribute to DMD progression. In preclinical tests on DMD muscle cells, the candidate upregulated genes associated with fatty acid oxidation, leading to gains in mitochondrial function and biogenesis. DMD mice treated daily with the drug could run for longer and experienced decreased muscle necrosis.

That preclinical package proved compelling enough to catapult the candidate into the clinic and has now also contributed to Astellas’ writing a check. Astellas will make Mitobridge a wholly owned subsidiary, positioning the biotech's scientists to continue exploring the potential to use MA-2011 to treat other diseases defined by mitochondrial dysfunction.