Ligand scoops up Pfenex for up to $516M, adding proteins to their antibody chickens and delivery tech
The technology hunting folks over at Ligand Pharmaceuticals have picked up a new one from across town, for a significant price.
Ligand has acquired fellow San Diego-based biotech Pfenex and their protein expression platform for $438 million cash, plus $78 million in contingent value agreements should an undisclosed milestone be hit before the end of next year. The deal pays $12 per share, or $4.34 more than what Pfenex had been trading at before the announcement.
For Ligand, the new acquisition adds another platform to a portfolio and a business model that has turned a biotech that as recently as 2005 was delisted from the Nasdaq and as recently as 2007 experienced a CEO-ousting a shareholder revolt into a $1.9 billion company. Basically, they acquired and developed a series of platforms — including antibody-producing mice and bispecific antibody-producing chicken and several drug delivery methods — and license those out to other companies for fees and milestones. They also do the same with individual assets.
Most notably at the moment, Gilead uses their solubility technology, called Captisol, to make the Covid-19 antiviral remdesivir soluble in IV fluids and able to be administered to patients. Other partners for their various products include many of the big pharmas and a long list of biotechs. Most recently, China’s CStone announced positive Phase III results this month from a Ligand-developed PD-L1 antibody in non-small cell lung cancer.
Already, Ligand had acquired several assets from Selexis’s protein expression platform and licensed them out. Pfenex will bring them a platform to develop those in-house.
Founded in 2009, Pfenex went public for $50 million in 2014 and has racked a series of partnerships for their proteins. The diphtheria toxin they developed is used in the experimental pneumococcal vaccine Merck has put into Phase III trials (diphtheria toxin is a backbone of virtually all pneumococcal vaccines, including Prevnar). One protein, PF708, was FDA-approved last year for osteoporosis. An anthrax vaccine deal with BARDA was terminated by the agency, but the company has proteins incorporated in late and early-stage drugs at Jazz Pharmaceuticals and in early-stage drugs at Arcellx.
Including a $15 million milestone from Jazz, Pfenex earned $50.3 million last year. Ligand expects it to add to their revenue in 2021.
“The acquisition holds potential to have a significantly positive scientific and financial impact on our business in the short and long term, similar to how our Captisol and OmniAb acquisitions have played out,” CEO John Higgins said in a statement. “Pfenex will add an established, proven protein expression platform to Ligand that is highly complementary to our essential, proprietary drug discovery and formulation technologies.”