Japan’s Astellas Pharma acquires US biotech firm Universal Cells for $102.5m

Astellas Pharma
Visual from Astellas' website

Tokyo-listed Astellas Pharma has acquired US-based biotech firm Universal Cells Inc. for up to $102.5 million, giving the Japanese firm access to the latter’s proprietary technology.

In a disclosure to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Astellas Pharma President and CEO Yoshihiko Hatanaka said, Universal Cell’s universal donor cell technology will add the capability to further enable Astellas to develop potential innovative cell therapies for numerous diseases with high unmet medical needs.

Universal Donor Cell technology creates cell therapy products that do not require Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matching, potentially overcoming a huge treatment challenge by reducing the risk of rejection.

“The acquisition combines Astellas’ capability of establishing differentiated functional cells from pluripotent stem cells with Universal Cell’s ability to produce pluripotent stem cells that have lower immunological rejection,” Astellas said.

The Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine (AIRM) and Universal Cells entered into an exclusive licence agreement in October 2017 to utilise Universal Donor Cell technology in a single indication.

“Today’s acquisition enables Astellas to fully utilise this proprietary technology in even more therapeutic areas,” the Japanese pharma firm said.

Universal Cells CEO Claudia Mitchell said the acquisition represents the recognition of the immense potential of Universal’s unique technology and the work done by the team.

Astellas will pay up to $102.5 million of upfront and milestones to acquire 100 per cent ownership of Universal Cells depending on the achievement of certain specified clinical milestones.

Universal Cells has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Astellas following the close of the acquisition.

In January, Astellas Pharma announced that it has completed the acquisition of US-based biotechnology company Mitobridge Inc. for $225 million.

“The transaction accelerates Astellas’ research and development in diseases associated with mitochondrial dysfunctions and will enable the delivery of innovative new treatment options to patients,” the Japanese pharma company said.

Following the acquisition, Astellas will maintain Mitobridge in Cambridge, MA, and retain the Mitobridge name as a division of Astellas.

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