Otsuka to acquire antibody developer Visterra in $430M deal

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Visterra previously signed a discovery deal with Vir Biotechnology for up to five infectious disease drugs, potentially worth over $1 billion in R&D milestones. (Pixabay)

Otsuka Pharmaceutical plans to acquire previous Fierce 15 winner Visterra and its antibody engineering platform for $430 million in cash, as Otsuka looks to build out proprietary drug discovery and development efforts across its programs, including in nephrology and other difficult diseases.

The deal follows Visterra’s aborted $50 million IPO attempt, pulled in February of last year. To get back on track, the biotech extended its series C round in the months afterward, gathering an additional $23.6 million in funding for its phase 2b flu drug from returning investors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Merck’s venture capital arm, Polaris Partners and Flagship Pioneering. In total, the financing round brought in $46.7 million.

Last October, Visterra signed a deal with Vir Biotechnology to license up to five research programs for infectious diseases, potentially worth over $1 billion in R&D milestone payments.

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Going forward, Visterra plans to become a wholly owned subsidiary of Otsuka, retaining its staff and current location in Waltham, Massachusetts, as it continues development of its pipeline. Both companies’ boards of directors have approved the deal, and expect the merger agreement to close in the third quarter of this year.

Visterra’s Hierotope platform aims to design antibody-based therapies that bind to and modulate targets including IgA nephropathy and other kidney diseases, cancer, chronic pain and infectious diseases. The platform includes Fc engineering for half-life extension, bispecific antibodies and antibody-drug conjugates, the company said in a statement.

“I am highly gratified that Visterra's exceptional antibody platform technology, promising pipeline and talented researchers will join up with Otsuka,” said Tatsuo Higuchi, president and representative director of Otsuka. “By collaborating and reinforcing each other’s culture, human ingenuity and technology, we hope to help fulfill Visterra’s promise as a powerful new drug creation engine and expand Otsuka’s research horizons.”

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Visterra’s most advanced pipeline candidate, VIS410, is currently in phase 2 development for hospital-based influenza. The monoclonal antibody is designed to halt the infection’s replication cycle by binding to a protein on the surface of the virus, hemagglutinin, and using it enter the cell. The program has received $38.6 million in federal funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, with the possibility of being extended to $214 million in total funding.

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The company’s preclinical portfolio also maintains compounds aimed at dengue fever, respiratory syncytial virus and severe fungal infections, as well as kidney diseases including graft-versus-host disease, transplant rejection and lupus nephritis.