Lilly doubles down on ProQR's RNA tech in $75M deal expansion, spurring biotech's much-needed share rally

RNA expert ProQR Therapeutics is ending a tough year on a high note thanks to a $75 million expansion of a genetic medicines partnership with Eli Lilly.

This expansion should be good news for the Dutch biotech, which cut 30% of its staff in the spring after a phase 2/3 med called sepofarsen failed. In August, ProQR said it would seek partnerships for its ophthalmology programs. The company refocused on its RNA-editing technology and wound down clinical trials for other candidates to preserve cash in the meantime.

Investors responded with glee to the Lilly deal, sending ProQR's shares up 67% in early morning trading on Thursday to $2.68, compared to a prior close of $1.65. The company began the year at $8.39. 

The collaboration was originally signed in September 2021 to make use of ProQR’s RNA-editing platform to develop therapies for liver and nervous system disorders. Now, Lilly is doubling down with the $75 million upfront payment plus an equity investment after seeing what the platform can do, according to a Thursday press release

Lilly and ProQR now believe that in addition to correcting known mutations, they may be able to introduce protective variants as well, which could lead to treatments for diseases that have a high unmet medical need.

The expanded partnership will include new targets. Lilly has an option to further expand the tie-up with another $50 million payment and may also provide the biotech with access to its proprietary delivery technology.

ProQR could now be eligible for up to $3.75 billion in R&D and commercialization milestones under the expanded agreement. Royalties on product sales are also up for grabs.