Vertex targets curative treatment for type 1 diabetes with purchase of Semma Therapeutics for $950 million

Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced Tuesday an agreement to acquire Semma Therapeutics for $950 million in cash, gaining the latter's investigational stem cell-derived therapy as a potentially curative treatment for type 1 diabetes. The transaction, which will see Semma become a separate operating subsidiary of Vertex, is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

"This acquisition aligns perfectly with our strategy of investing in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases in specialty markets," remarked Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden. The executive added "we see a substantial opportunity to transform the treatment paradigm for type 1 diabetes…both by advancing the development and manufacturing of the cells themselves, as well as through the highly innovative cell/device combination."

According to Vertex, Semma has demonstrated the ability to produce large quantities of functional human pancreatic beta cells that restore insulin secretion and ameliorate hypoglycaemia in animal models. The company has also developed a device that encapsulates and protects these cells from the immune system, which Vertex noted enables "durable implantation without the need for ongoing immunosuppressive therapy."

In June, Semma released proof-of-concept data demonstrating that the strategy was effective in both non-human primates and pigs. At that time, Semma expressed plans to initiate a clinical study in the first half of 2020 focused on patients with difficult-to-treat diabetes and hypoglycaemia unawareness, as well as a second trial in adults with type 1 diabetes without immunosuppression in the second half of the year.

Following the close of the acquisition, current Semma CEO Bastiano Sanna, who joined the company last year, will serve as president of the subsidiary. In addition, Semma scientific founder Douglas Melton will remain in his role as chair of the firm's scientific advisory board and provide oversight and guidance on R&D programmes.

The transaction marks Vertex's second purchase in recent months following its deal in June to acquire Exonics Therapeutics for $1 billion, in addition to the expansion of an existing partnership with CRISPR Therapeutics. For related analysis, read ViewPoints: Vertex still hungry for deals.

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