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By Denise Roland
Pfizer Inc. has agreed to pay up to EUR560 million ($636 million) for the rights to gene therapies under development at French company Vivet Therapeutics, as it seeks to build its pipeline in this cutting-edge treatment.
The U.S. drugmaker said Wednesday it had paid EUR45 million upfront for a 15% stake in Vivet. Further payments, which include the potential acquisition of Vivet, are dependent on the progress of the French company's experimental therapies.
Gene therapies, which introduce new DNA into the body to address diseases caused by a single faulty gene, are attracting attention for their ability to cure intractable diseases. In the past month, both Roche Holding AG and Biogen have made bets on gene therapy.
Closely held Vivet's most advanced program is a gene therapy for Wilson disease, a rare, inherited liver disorder that causes the buildup of copper in the body. It requires lifelong treatment and can be fatal unless treated with a liver transplant. Vivet's program, dubbed VTX-801, is slated to start human trials next year.
Pfizer has made a series of investments to build its presence in gene therapy. Unlike rivals Novartis AG and Roche, which have recently opted to acquire gene therapy developers outright, it has struck partnerships that grant it the rights to specific programs at smaller companies.
Pfizer is developing a gene therapy for hemophilia B with Spark Therapeutics Inc., which was recently acquired by Roche, and another for hemophilia A with California-based Sangamo Therapeutics Inc. It also has programs of its own at earlier stages of development.
Questions remain about the affordability of gene therapies. Some of these treatments are likely to command seven-figure price tags. Drug companies say these one-time treatments represent good value when compared with the alternatives, which usually involve lifelong therapy or organ or stem-cell transplants.
Health systems aren't yet set up to deal with high one-off prices for treatments, but new models such as instalment-based payments could address concerns about costs.
Write to Denise Roland at Denise.Roland@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 20, 2019 07:44 ET (11:44 GMT)
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