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Bayer to acquire Biotech AskBio for as much as US$4b

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Bayer agreed to acquire US biotech company Asklepios BioPharmaceutical for as much as US$4 billion, bolstering its pharmaceuticals division before patents expire on some key therapies.

[FRANKFURT] Bayer agreed to acquire US biotech company Asklepios BioPharmaceutical for as much as US$4 billion, bolstering its pharmaceuticals division before patents expire on some key therapies.

The German drug and chemical giant will pay US$2 billion upfront and potential milestone payments of US$2 billion for closely held AskBio, a North Carolina-based company that's developing gene therapies for diseases including Parkinson's and congestive heart failure, according to a joint statement.

Bayer is hoping to join the vanguard of businesses in the cutting-edge field of gene and cell therapies at a time when its current blockbusters - blood thinner Xarelto and eye-care medicine Eylea - will lose patent protection in the next few years. Bayer said it created a special business unit for cell and gene therapies, bringing together research performed by other entities including BlueRock Therapeutics, which Bayer fully acquired last year.

"It's an incredible addition for us in our emerging cell- and gene-therapy business," Stefan Oelrich, Bayer's head of pharma, said in an interview. "A puzzle is coming together with AskBio really being our centrepiece." AskBio, founded in 2001, has several units, including a contract manufacturing business that makes components used by other cell- and gene-therapy companies as well as its own experimental treatments. It already has licensed out products undergoing clinical trials for treating patients with hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and it's developing experimental therapies for other neuromuscular, central nervous system, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, the company said.

Bayer expects the deal to close later this year, and AskBio will continue to operate as an independent company, the companies said.

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