Blackstone bets on Autolus' CD19 CAR-T in $250M deal, clearing path to pivotal readout in 2022

Autolus Therapeutics has found a deep-pocketed supporter of its CD19 CAR-T therapy. Having seen Autolus’ stock halved over the past year, Blackstone Life Sciences has stepped in with a $250 million package to support the British biotech through to a pivotal readout and beyond.

The deal covers obecabtagene autoleucel, a CD19 CAR-T therapy also known as obe-cel and AUTO1. Autolus designed obe-cel to improve on the clinical activity and safety of existing CD19 CAR-Ts such as Kymriah and Yescarta, notably through changes intended to minimize excessive activation of the programmed T cells. However, Autolus has struggled to drum up enthusiasm for the drug, causing its share price to slide 50% to around $5.50 over a 12-month period in which it laid off 20% of its staff.

Now, Blackstone has signed up to swing its considerable financial firepower behind obe-cel. The first phase of the deal will see Blackstone pay $50 million upfront and make a $100 million investment in Autolus. Beyond that, Blackstone is on the hook for up to $100 million in payouts tied to obe-cel development and regulatory milestones. 

Autolus will use the money to develop and, if approved, commercialize obe-cel. As that happens, Blackstone is poised to generate a return on its investment through a capped single-digit royalty, milestone payments based on net sales and a warrant to purchase up to $24 million worth of Autolus shares at an exercise price premium to market.

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Blackstone’s $100 million investment in Autolus could also prove profitable if the British biotech turns its fortunes around. Autolus traded above $25 a share for most of its first year on Nasdaq but has largely languished below $10 over the past two years. Autolus is yet to disclose the sale price of the $100 million in shares, but the deal is happening at a low point in its time on public markets. 

The deal comes ahead of the delivery of data from the potentially pivotal FELIX clinical trial in adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia next year. With Autolus estimating its cash would see it through to midpoint of 2023 before the Blackstone deal, the additional funding sets the biotech up to deliver data and seek approval.

Shares in Autolus rose more than 30% in premarket trading, climbing to around $7.50 apiece.