AstraZeneca has signed a definitive agreement to acquire China-based Gracell Biotechnologies to expand its portfolio of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies.

AstraZeneca will acquire all of Gracell’s fully diluted share capital for $2 per ordinary share in cash closing, totalling approximately $1bn. Gracell will also be in line to receive a non-tradable contingent value right of $0.30 per ordinary share in cash payable upon achievement of a specified regulatory milestone, as per a 26 December press release.

The deal is expected to close in Q1 FY 2024. Following deal closure, AstraZeneca will also acquire Gracell’s cash reserves and short-term investments, which totalled $234.1m as of 30 September 2023. Following the news, Gracell’s stock was up by over 60% at the market close on 26 December, compared to the market close on 22 December.

Gracell’s lead asset is dual B cell maturation antigen (BCMA) and CD19 targeting CAR-T cell therapy, GC01F. The therapy is being investigated in multiple indications including multiple myeloma and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

In February, the company received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start Phase Ib/II clinical trial of GC012F in patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma. In May, the company reported that the therapy achieved 93.1% and 100% overall response rates in studies in patients with relapsed/refractory and newly diagnosed multiple myeloma, respectively. At the same time, Gracell started an investigator-initiated trial in China, evaluating GC012F for the treatment of refractory SLE.

The cell and gene therapy market is forecasted to be worth over $81bn by 2029, as per GlobalData’s sales and forecast database. This year alone, AstraZeneca has invested considerable resources in bolstering its cell and gene therapy pipeline.

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In November, AstraZeneca made an equity investment in Cellectis to develop up to ten cell and gene therapy candidates. In September, it acquired and licensed Pfizer’s early-stage gene therapy portfolio for rare diseases. AstraZeneca acquired Pfizer’s platform through its rare disease division, Alexion for a total consideration of up to $1bn, plus tiered royalties on sales. In June, it partnered with UK-based start-up Quell Therapeutics to advance and license T-regulator (Treg) cell therapies for autoimmune diseases.

Apart from cell and gene therapies, AstraZeneca also made a significant investment in renal and cardiovascular indications. In February, it acquired US-based CinCor Pharma for approximately $1.3bn in upfront payment. The company also invested in the growing obesity market by signing a  licensing deal with Eccogene to develop and commercialise ECC5004, a small molecule GLP-1 agonist.

Cell & Gene Therapy coverage on Pharmaceutical Technology is supported by Cytiva

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