Vertex pays $4.9 billion to hike Alpine’s immunology trail

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is buying Alpine Immune Sciences for $4.9 billion, the companies announced Wednesday afternoon. 

It’s the biggest acquisition so far this year, underscoring the immense investments that immunology and inflammation have drawn from biopharmas. Gilead’s $4.4 billion purchase of liver disease biotech CymaBay was the largest M&A deal before Thursday. And a week ago, Genmab made it's largest-ever buy, scooping up cancer drug developer ProfoundBio. 

Vertex is set to get ahold of Alpine’s lead asset, povetacicept, a dual B cell cytokine agonist that Alpine says has best-in-class potential as a treatment for IgA nephropathy (IgAN).

New data from an open-label basket trial released Thursday found that povetacicept, given at 80mg once every four weeks, spurred a 64.1% reduction in proteinuria, an indicator of poor kidney filtration. Alpine plans to launch a phase 3 trial for patients with the indication in the second half of the year and is also testing the drug in patients with lupus and autoimmune cytopenias. 

Meanwhile, also in IgAN, Novartis is working on several assets, including Fabhalta and atrasentan, which the Swiss pharma obtained from its $3.2 billion acquisition o Chinook Therapeutics last year. Calliditas Therapeutics in December gained a full FDA approval for Tarpeyo, a formulation of budesonide, in IgAN.

The Alpine acquisition bolsters Vertex’s standing in the immunology space as other pharmas look to stand out. Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Duato told investors in February that he sees opportunity for additional M&A in areas like neuroscience and immunology, and Takeda completed its $4 billion purchase of Nimubs’ TYK2 candidate back in February 2023. Other pharmas, like AbbVie, Bristol Myers Squibb and Sanofi, have doubled down on investing in immunology. 

Vertex CEO Reshma Kewalramani, M.D., said in a statement that she and the Vertex team look forward to exploring povetacicept’s potential as a “‘pipeline-in-a-product'”. 

Povetacicept’s profile has ascended within Alpine’s pipeline as delays and restructured agreements marked the recent history of AbbVie-partnered, acazicolcept. Alpine announced in late 2023 that the two had restructured their 2020 deal, with Alpine agreeing to stop the study early and accept a reduced option fee if AbbVie decided to opt into the asset. Alpine previously disclosed that phase 2 costs had exceeded expectations.