Vertex to tighten grip on diabetes islet cell space with $320m ViaCyte buy

Vertex will bolster its inhouse manufacturing capabilities while adding three cell therapy approaches to type 1 diabetes through the acquisition of ViaCyte.

In 2019, Vertex Pharmaceuticals entered the diabetes cell therapy space through the $950 million acquisition of Semma Therapeutics. The deal brought Vertex a stem cell-derived islet platform and VX-880, an allogeneic candidate for type 1 diabetes (T1D), entering the firm into the relatively small islet cell space.

Now the firm plans to remove its main competition, ViaCyte, through the $320 million acquisition announced yesterday.

According to Brian Abrahams, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, the deal “is primarily geared at rounding out IP, manufacturing capabilities, and shots on goal within T1D cell therapy.”

He wrote in a note: “The deal would bring to Vertex IP rights around stem cell differentiation processes, cGMP manufacturing capabilities that could add to Vertex’s capacity, and access to hypoimmune cell assets that could aid in tackling the larger non-immunosuppressed population.”

ViaCyte’s diabetes products are off-the-shelf stem cell therapies that use islet cells, and can be seen in the video below.

Vertex is currently constructing a second inhouse manufacturing facility – the $595 million Center for Cell and Genetic Therapies building in Boston – aimed at supporting its burgeoning regenerative medicine business.

“Vertex continues to believe their inhouse fully differentiated approach will be superior and plans to advance their own immune edited cells as previously planned, though will look at clinical results to make decisions around asset prioritization,” Abrahams added.

Reshma Kewalramani, Vertex’s CEO, said “VX-880 has successfully demonstrated clinical proof of concept in T1D, 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.”

The acquisition is expected to close later this year. Once complete, only Siligon Therapeutics will rival Vertex in the diabetes islet cell therapy sector.