Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Astellas Pharma to buy stem cell pioneer Ocata

NY Times News Service

Ocata Therapeutics, a sometimes controversial pioneer in developing human embryonic stem cells, is to be acquired by Astellas Pharma for about US$379 million, the companies announced on Monday night.

Astellas, one of the major drug companies in Japan, would make a tender offer worth US$8.50 a share in cash, a 79 percent premium to Ocata’s closing price on Friday last week.

Despite its small size, Ocata, known for most of its existence as Advanced Cell Technology, has often been in the headlines for pushing the frontiers of cloning and embryonic stem cell technology.

It is arguably the most advanced company in testing medical treatments derived from human embryonic stem cells. Such treatments are controversial because their creation usually involves the destruction of human embryos, although Ocata says it can avoid embryo destruction.

Ocata, based in Marlborough, Massachusetts, has reported early, but encouraging results from clinical trials in which it turned the embryonic stems cells into a type of retinal support cell and implanted them into the eyes of people suffering from two blinding diseases, the dry form of age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt disease.

Despite its pioneering efforts, much of the company’s history has been marked by a struggle for money to stay in business and by sometimes premature announcements of achievements that were criticized as publicity stunts.

In 2001, for instance, Advanced Cell Technology claimed to have created the first human embryos produced by cloning, though other scientists disputed that, pointing out that the embryos had quickly died. The year before it made an early effort to save an endangered species by cloning.

“We highly value Ocata’s R&D capabilities, including its world-leading researchers in cell therapy,” Yoshihiko Hatanaka, chief executive of Astellas, said in a statement. “We are confident we would turn innovative science into value for patients.”

Ocata chief executive Paul Wotton said: “I am impressed by the vision and commitment of Astellas,”

The Japanese company’s resources would help bring his company’s cell therapies to market, he said.

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