Editor’s note: What a year 2016 has turned out to be for Chapel Hill life science startup Bamboo Therapeutics. From a Papal blessing in January to a $50 million capital fund raise in February to the $150 million acquisition announced Monday (and up to $495 million more to come). NC Biotech Writer Barry Teater writes about the deal and provides the backstory on Bamboo’s history.
CHAPLE HILL, N.C. – Bamboo Therapeutics, a next-generation gene therapy company based in Chapel Hill, has been acquired by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer of New York.
Pfizer, which had acquired a 22 percent stake in Bamboo for $43 million in January, has now acquired the company’s remaining equity for an upfront payment of $150 million, according to a company news release.
Shareholders of the privately held Bamboo will also be eligible for potential milestone payments of up to $495 million if the company’s product candidates achieve development, regulatory approval and commercialization goals.
“The field of gene therapy research has made tremendous strides in recent years, and we are pleased to be able to further enhance our leadership position in this area through this transaction with Bamboo,” said Mikael Dolsten, president of worldwide research and development at Pfizer. “We believe that gene therapy may hold the promise of bringing true disease modification for patients suffering from devastating diseases, and we hope to see this promise come to fruition – through new and existing in-house capabilities and potential partnership opportunities – in the years to come.”
Prior to Pfizer’s investment and acquisition, Bamboo had been operating as a virtual company with seed money from angel investors, foundations and the motivated parents of children suffering from rare central nervous system and neuromuscular diseases.
Bamboo is a spinout of Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (“AskBio” for short), a gene-delivery technology company co-founded in 2003 by entrepreneurs Sheila Mikhail and R. Jude Samulski, Ph.D., director of the Gene Therapy Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Bamboo is one of several companies spun out of AskBio, which has grown with the help of more than $700,000 in grants and loans from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to support its research and commercial development.
Bamboo was focused on developing gene therapies for four severe diseases:
- Giant axonal neuropathy, a disorder of neurofilaments, the structural framework that helps define the shape and size of nerve cells.
- Friedreich’s ataxia, a progressive degeneration of nervous tissue in the spinal cord.
- Canavan’s disease, a progressive deterioration of nerve cells in the brains of infants.
- Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive degeneration of muscles.
All of these diseases are caused by absent or faulty proteins due to mutations in single genes, making gene therapy a viable treatment strategy.
Bamboo’s technology uses a benign type of modified virus called recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) as a “vector” to ferry normal genes into the cells of patients who have faulty genes that cause disease. The vector technology has existed for several decades, but recent improvements have made it more precise, with potentially fewer detrimental “off-target” side effects.
Samulski is a pioneer in rAAV vectors and was the first to clone the virus some 30 years ago. He has more than 20 patents filed or issued relating to rAAV biology.
Samulski was recruited to UNC from the University of Pittsburgh with the help of a $430,000 Faculty Recruitment Grant from the Biotechnology Center in 1993. He will join Pfizer to continue developing Bamboo’s rAAV technology.
“We are pleased to begin working with Pfizer, as this represents a significant step toward bringing Bamboo’s portfolio into the clinic and ultimately potential new medicines to patients,” Samulski said.
With the acquisition, Pfizer gains Bamboo’s 11,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for recombinant viral vectors. The facility previously was known as the University of North Carolina’s Vector Core until Bamboo purchased it from UNC earlier this year.
“We believe Bamboo’s industry-leading capabilities in rAAV vector design and manufacturing complement Pfizer’s rare disease strategy and help advance Pfizer’s mission to deliver life-changing innovation to patients with the greatest needs,” said Gregory LaRosa, chief scientific officer for Pfizer’s rare disease research unit. “Bringing together Pfizer and Bamboo colleagues’ deep scientific understanding of both rAAV biology and complex biologic manufacturing will help position us for success in this area.”
(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center