Lilly beams up Verve gene therapy programs for $600M from deal-hungry Beam

Beam Therapeutics is selling opt-in rights to Verve’s gene therapy programs aimed at cardiovascular disease to Eli Lilly for up to $600 million, a third of which is upfront cash.

The deal, disclosed Tuesday, gives Lilly rights to opt in to Verve’s programs aimed at PCSK9, ANGPTL3 and another undisclosed target. The PCSK9 program, VERVE-101, recently had an FDA hold lifted, allowing enrollment to begin in the U.S. for additional parts of an ongoing phase 1 trial. In exchange, Lilly is coughing up $200 million in upfront cash in addition to a $50 million equity investment. The deal puts $350 million on the table should the programs reach certain milestones. 

The equity investment was Lilly’s proposal, Beam CEO John Evans said in an interview, allowing the Big Pharma to have a bit of an actual stake in Beam. Evans said he wouldn’t have wanted to sell much more of the company than was included but that “it's a good sign of a relationship that we could potentially grow in the future.” 

In a statement, Ruth Gimeno, Ph.D., group VP of diabetes, obesity and cardiometabolic research at Lilly, underscored the company's interest in single-course gene editing treatments. Lilly and Verve first partnered earlier this year on a preclinical in vivo program targeting Lp(a) to treat atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. 

"This agreement expands the scope of Lilly’s ongoing relationship with Verve and gives us exposure to the full breadth of potential with Beam’s base editing platform," she said. 

Beam and Verve’s deal dates back to 2019 when Verve emerged out of stealth, licensing Beam’s base editing technology to tackle the targets now at the center of the deal. It was amended in 2022 to tack on the additional undisclosed target, with Verve offering Beam some of its own tech to be used on a target-by-target basis. 

Evans says this handoff had been in the works for a “long time” and had been negotiated separately from the larger restructuring that Beam just announced. He said closing this deal earlier would not have changed those plans, which included layoffs to 20% of the staff. 

“We really did want to do both,” Evans said. “I think it’s an ‘and’ not an ‘or’ for us.” 

But the deal does represent the first in potentially additional out-licensing opportunities that Beam is shopping around, including programs targeting hepatitis B virus and Stargardt disease that are now on the periphery after the restructuring. Evans confirmed the company has had discussions with potential suitors about both of them. He also mentioned conversations that have centered on BEAM-201, the company’s CAR-T asset, which just began dosing in a phase 1 trial last month. 

“Business development is a critical part of our strategy, both to create financing and generate that investment capital that we want to have, but also to put the technologies into more hands so they can reach more patients,” he said.

Sickle cell and beta thalassemia patients are still waiting to try out the technology, however, but Evans reiterated guidance that he expects that the first patient will be dosed with BEAM-101 before the end of the year. He said multiple patients are continuing to move through the screening and transfusion process as well. 

“All of that should lead to a pretty rich data update in ‘24 on that program,” he said.