RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Drug giant Bayer is paying quite a price to acquire RTP gene therapy firm AskBio in a deal announced early today – as much as $4 billion.

The upfront price is $2 billion.

And there’s as much as $2 billion to be paid out based on “success-based milestone payments.”

Bayer also says that the RTP company, which has some 300 employees, will “operate autonomously and on an arm’s length basis.”

AskBio exec: Gene editing firm chose $4B Bayer offer over other firms, also going public

AskBio’s full name is Asklepios BioPharmaceutical.

The move positions Bayer for more growth in gene therapy, a market that is forecast to grow to nearly $7 billion in 2027 from under $2 billion in 2019, according to Grand View Research. Hundreds of clinical trials are underway worldwide for gene therapy products, the firm says.

Founded in 2001, AskBio is a privately held, clinical-stage gene therapy company dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with genetic disorders.

AskBio logo

Its gene therapy platform uses adeno-associated viruses to carry therapeutic genes into human cells. AAVs are small viruses that can infect cells without causing any known diseases.

In the announcement’s two of AskBio’s cofounders touted their firm’s potential to meet growing demand for gene therapies and how Bayer will help meet that demand.

“Our innovation in capsid re-engineering and promoter design, coupled with our scaled manufacturing processes, gives us the tools to provide gene therapy solutions to more people suffering from a wider spectrum of diseases that is not being adequately treated today,” said R. Jude Samulski, who is AskBio’s Chief Scientific Officer.

Added Sheila Mikhail, its CEO: “With Bayer‘s worldwide reach and translational expertise, especially in pathway diseases, our combined cultures of scientific advancement and commitment to patients, along with the retention of AskBio’s independent structure, position us to provide accelerated development of gene therapies to treat more patients who can benefit from them.”

The company’s gene therapy platform has generated hundreds of proprietary third-generation AAV capsids and promoters, several of which have entered clinical testing. An early innovator in the space, AskBio holds more than 500 patents.

Bayer says the acquisition augments its gene therapy efforts.

“The addition of AskBio to Bayer’s emerging cell and gene therapy (CGT) business strengthens Bayer’s commitment to the field.,” Bayer explained in the announcement. “It complements [the] 2019 acquisition of BlueRock Therapeutics and advances Bayer’s efforts to create platforms with the potential to have an impact in multiple therapeutic areas.”

Bayer paid some $600 million for the 60% of BlueRock it did not already own.

AskBio has a portfolio of clinical programs across a range of neurodegenerative and neuromuscular indications that includes therapeutics for Pompe disease, limb-girdle muscular dystrophy 2i/R9 and congestive heart failure, as well as out-licensed clinical indications for hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

AskBio has spun out four gene therapy companies: NanoCor Therapeutics, Chatham Therapeutics, Bamboo Therapeutics and Actus Therapeutics. Chatham was acquired by Takeda, and Bamboo was acquired by Pfizer.

In May 2019 AskBio raised $225 million in equity funding and another $10 million from founders and board members. The funding was the largest single round of venture capital financing ever for a North Carolina bioscience company.

Recent AskBio headlines in WRAL TechWire

Gene-editing breakthrough? AskBio’s Jude Samulski seeks patent for new system

Gene therapy firm AskBio acquires French company targeting deadly brain disease

AskBio, UNC team up to develop gene therapy for Angelman syndrome​​​​​​​