Roche bids US$4.8bn for Spark

GENE FIX::After Luxturna was approved by US regulators in 2017, Spark said the firm would charge US$425,000 per eye for injecting a working version of a gene called RPE65


Tue, Feb 26, 2019 - Page 10

Roche Holding AG plans to buy Spark Therapeutics Inc for US$4.8 billion, a deal that would give the Swiss drugmaker one of the first-ever therapies to treat, and potentially cure, a disease by providing a fix for a patient’s defective genes.

Roche is to pay US$114.50 a share for Philadelphia-based Spark, a 122 percent premium to the biotechnology company’s close in New York trading on Friday.

While the price is rich, Spark shares were trading above US$90 as recently as last year.

The offer was a 19 percent premium to Spark’s 52-week intraday high, Roche said.

Along with French biopharmaceutical company Ipsen SA’s agreement yesterday to acquire Clementia Pharmaceuticals Inc for as much as US$1.3 billion, the Roche deal shows how drug companies are placing big bets on the fraught but lucrative field of rare diseases.

Gene therapies, in particular, are a promising new area of medicine with the potential to cure a wide range of often-rare diseases by replacing or repairing errors in the body’s instruction manual.

Their amazing potential has been matched by breakthrough prices, as companies have sought to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for them — or more.

The Roche deal’s premium is an outlier, but recent pharmaceutical deals have come with rich valuations.

Acquirers paid an average 45 percent premium in takeovers of listed pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies announced over the past five years, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Spark’s therapy Luxturna treats a gene-driven form of blindness by injecting a working version of a gene called RPE65. In people with that condition, the working genes can help restore sight.

After Luxturna was approved by US regulators in 2017, Spark said it would charge US$425,000 per eye for the treatment.

Spark was founded in 2013 at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Along with Luxturna, it is developing gene therapies for the bleeding disorder hemophilia, an area where Roche is seeking to broaden its presence.

Spark already has a licensing agreement with Roche’s crosstown rival, Basel-based Novartis AG. Under an agreement struck last year, Novartis has the rights to sell Luxturna outside the US.