Bluebird bio snares gene-editing tech in $156M buyout deal

The gene therapy pioneer bluebird bio has snapped up a biotech outfit skilled in gene-editing and cell-signaling tech in a deal valued at up to $156 million, including about $16 million worth of its stock.

The deal breaks down like this: Bluebird ($BLUE) is handing over $15.8 million worth of stock to the owners of Pregenen--or Precision Genome Engineering--while assuming about $5 million in liabilities, reserving $15 million for some near-term preclinical milestones plus another $20.1 million for clinical goals. The backend commercial milestones outlined in the pact for successful marketing efforts in the future add up to another $99.9 million.

In exchange, bluebird is absorbing a Seattle-based company that claims some advanced skills in one of the hottest areas of drug development. Bluebird, which has been building its reputation in next-gen gene therapies, struck a deal with Celgene ($CELG) back in 2013 agreeing to explore Baylor's work in CAR-Ts--or chimeric antigen receptors--aimed at engineering T cells generated by the immune system into cancer killers. And this deal today is aimed at whetting bluebird's edge in the field.

Back in 2011 Pregenen boasted in a release concerning a new collaboration with Cellectis--which just days ago inked its own sweeping CAR-T pact with Pfizer--that the company spun out of the Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium, which included investigators from the Seattle Children's Research Institute, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. The two research centers also helped spawn Juno Therapeutics, one of the leaders in CAR-T research which is racing a rival program out of the University of Pennsylvania now bankrolled by Novartis ($NVS). Juno is also claiming in court that it developed the IP behind the Novartis effort, flagging yet another connection to the Seattle research hub.

Dr. Andrew Scharenberg

"Pregenen is a recognized leader in the development and reprogramming of novel Homing Endonuclease and MegaTAL based enzymes that provide a highly specific and efficient way to silence, edit, or insert genetic components," said Pregenen co-founder Dr. Andrew Scharenberg, a physician at Seattle Children's, an investigator at the consortium and a professor at the University of Washington. "Teaming up with bluebird allows us to further expand and translate our gene editing and cell signaling technologies into potentially new and impactful human therapeutics, and provides an opportunity to complement bluebird's established HSC and CAR-T cell product platforms to develop the next generation of gene therapy product candidates."

Cambridge, MA-based bluebird has also been testing an improved lentiviral vector needed to get a corrective beta-globin gene in place to repair their ability to produce hemoglobin in a study of LentiGlobin BB305. One of those subjects recently produced 6.6 g/dL of therapeutic betaAT87Q-globin at 4.5 months as a result of the therapy and another hit 4.2 g/dL of betaAT87Q-globin at two months--enough to prevent the need for further monthly transfusions and symptoms like severe anemia and splenomegaly, at least for now.

- here's the release

Special Report: 2012 Fierce 15 - Bluebird Bio