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Diabetes Cell Therapy Biotech Acquired in $320M Deal

Diabetes word cloud

(905513, Pixabay)

11 July 2022. A developer of therapies derived from stem cells to replace malfunctioning islet cells in people with type 1 diabetes was acquired by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. The deal with Vertex Pharma is expected to bring $320 million for shareholders in the privately-owned biotechnology company ViaCyte Inc. in San Diego.

ViaCyte designs one-time treatments for type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease where islet cells in the pancreas, also known as beta cells, do not produce insulin. With type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks healthy islet cells and tissue, resulting in the loss of insulin production. Insulin converts glucose or sugar in the blood into energy, and people with type 1 diabetes need to constantly monitor their blood glucose levels and take insulin, usually by injection, to maintain safe blood glucose levels. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce or process sufficient amounts of insulin. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.7 percent of the 28.7 million people in the U.S. with diabetes have type 1.

ViaCyte produces replacement islet cells for people with type 1 diabetes from pluripotent stem cells, engineered to transform into precursors of islet cells, called PEC-01. The company maintains its own line of of these stem cells, which it says can be delivered to patients in various ways. One method delivers PEC-01 cells directly to the patient, which requires drugs to suppress possible immune reactions. Another technique encases PEC-01 cells in biocompatible protective material that supports transformation into working islet cells, and implanted under the skin. The most recent advance by the company uses gene-edited stem cells to produce precursor islet cells that avoid immune-system rejection, working with biotechnology company Crispr Therapeutics.

“Reduce the burden of millions of people living with T1D”

Vertex Pharma in Boston develops cell and gene therapies for inherited disorders, including a treatment for type 1 diabetes or T1D. That therapy candidate, code-named VX-880, is also derived from stem cells, requires drugs to suppress immune reactions, and is now in an early- and mid-stage clinical trial. And like ViaCyte, Vertex is partnering with Crispr Therapeutics on an edited stem cell treatment for inherited blood disorders, as reported by Science & Enterprise in Nov. 2020. The company’s lead products are treatments for cystic fibrosis, several of which are now approved by FDA and on the market.

Vertex is acquiring ViaCyte for $320 million in cash. ViaCyte’s CEO Michael Yang says in a Vertex Pharma statement that “this acquisition will allow Vertex to deploy ViaCyte’s tools, technologies, and assets toward the development of Vertex’s multiple cell replacement therapy approaches designed to reduce the burden of millions of people living with T1D worldwide.”

Vertex expects the acquisition will expand on their current work with type 1 diabetes and other stem cell treatments. “VX-880 has successfully demonstrated clinical proof of concept in T1D,” notes Vertex CEO Reshma Kewalramani, “and the acquisition of ViaCyte will accelerate our goal of transforming, if not curing T1D by expanding our capabilities and bringing additional tools, technologies and assets to our current stem cell-based programs.”

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