Put on hold music: Roche delays Spark buyout for the 9th — and quite possibly not the last — time
It’s beginning to take on the will-they-won’t-they character of a sitcom or a victorian novel. Nine months after Roche announced it was acquiring gene therapy pioneer Spark Therapeutics, the deal is still not done and today, the Swiss giant announced a 9th delay.
The announcements are becoming a monthly routine. The last delay — at the end of October — extended the window for tenders to purchase Spark stock through the coming Monday, November 25. This new one will push the window until December 10.
Don’t be surprised if it gets delayed again — and not only because the merger is beginning to resemble Boston’s Big Dig in the number of setbacks. The $4.3 billion deal has largely been held up over anti-competitive concerns, and the UK Competition and Markets Authority’s deadline to rule on the move is not until December 16.
Despite public assurances, Roche has prepared for a protracted process. Roche filed this summer to extend the deadline to April 30 of 2020, even as CEO Severin Schwan told investors last month a deal would likely be done before the end of the year.
There is yet time for that to happen. While there is little word from across the pond, the FTC last month chose not to lodge a complaint against the buyout — a move that amounts to a sign-off for the agency.
Most of the concerns around the deal center around Roche’s hemophilia drug Hemlibra and two hemophilia gene therapy in development at Spark, and the prospect of having three of the top hemophilia drugs in the hand of one company.
Investors, though, have raised concerns that regulators’ meddling has held up the gene therapy field.
Roche may have an answer soon. The British regulator must decide by December 16 and may give an answer before then. But if they determine that merger warrants a more scrutinizing look, called a Phase 2, it could set back the acquisition. UK guidelines dictate Phase 2 reviews are “generally limited” to 24 weeks.