Intrexon takes a $60M flyer on a synthetic biology startup

Billionaire R.J. Kirk's Intrexon ($XON) has signed a $60 million deal to acquire ActoGeniX, a Belgian biotech at work on oral drugs designed to generate therapeutic proteins and peptides from within the body.

Under the deal, Intrexon will trade $30 million in cash and another $30 million in stock for the whole company, inheriting two clinical candidates and 6 early-stage research projects. Each asset is what ActoGeniX calls an ActoBiotic, created by engineering food-grade microbes that spur the secretion of large molecules and, to quote Intrexon's click-baity news release headline, promise "living biofactories in your prescription bottle."

ActoGeniX's most advanced candidate is the oral mucositis treatment AG013, now in Phase II. Then there's the Phase I AG014, designed to block the protein TNF-alpha and treat inflammatory bowel disease. The biotech is working with Stallergenes on a preclinical allergy treatment and has partnered with Merck ($MRK) on an undisclosed early-stage project, according to its website.

The bull case for ActoBiotics lies in their potential to create orally available versions of high-value biological therapies, Kirk said, and Intrexon believes it can build out a wide pipeline of potential treatments using the biotech's platform. That said, the company's $60 million price tag would suggest something short of a bidding war for ActoGeniX, but Kirk is resolute that his company has the capacity and pedigree to make something of the biotech's moonshot technology.

"Utilization of living biofactories, whether through adoptive T-cell therapies, autologous fibroblast platforms or food-grade microbes, is one of the principal objects of the engineering of biology, which we aspire to lead at Intrexon," Kirk said in a statement. "The outstanding team at ActoGeniX is a welcome addition to assist us in this endeavor."

The deal follows Intrexon's big dive into CAR-T, in which the company and partner Ziopharm ($ZIOP) are paying the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center $100 million to collaborate on cancer therapies that modify patients' T cells.

- read the announcement