How do companies seal a deal when executives cannot shake hands? Maybe the management teams of Arya Sciences and Immatics bumped elbows when the latter was bought by the blank cheque company on Tuesday in a deal worth $252m. As for the Japanese group AGC’s €240m ($267m) offer for Italy’s Molmed, presumably execs could not meet in person at all given that Italy is still locked down.
Be that as it may an acquisition and a bid have been arranged somehow, proving that though the Covid-19 pandemic has had a deadening effect on deal-making it has not annihilated it altogether. The interesting aspect is how Immatics and Molmed – both cell therapy players, albeit of different kinds – will develop from here.
A stark mission
Arya Sciences Acquisition Corp was set up to do what its name suggests: its sole purpose is to effect a merger or similar combination with one or more businesses. It is controlled by the hedge fund Perceptive Advisors, and floated on Nasdaq in October 2018, raising $144m.
Immatics will receive $148m of cash from Arya’s trust account, which holds the IPO proceeds plus interest, when the deal closes in the second quarter. Perceptive and other institutional investors, including Redmile and Wellington Partners, have committed a further $104m more in pipe funding.
Arya says Immatics’ T-cell receptor-based candidates for solid tumours hold the kind of disruptive potential the investment vehicle was looking for. Immatics has two main product classes, adoptive cell therapies, which use natural or engineered T cells against cancer, and T-cell receptor bispecifics, which bind to tumour-specific peptides and to immunomodulating T-cell surface proteins.
Gaining access to the US capital markets will allow Immatics to advance its projects through the clinic. The group expects topline phase I/II data from three TCR projects and one bispecific by the end of this year.
Going public represents a long-held goal for Immatics. The company was already eyeing the US exchanges two years ago (Why Immatics could soon become the next listed cell therapy player, July 16, 2018).
Molmed could take a very different route if AGC’s bid for it is accepted, becoming a part of a much larger whole. Japan’s AGC is the largest glass company in the world, but is also active in the fields of ceramics, electronics and chemicals.
AGC considers its life sciences business a strategic priority, and aims to get the unit’s sales above ¥100bn by 2025. Buying Molmed – it is offering €0.518 per Molmed share, at a premium of 110% – will allow ACG to move into gene and cell therapies.
It will not get there fast. Molmed withdrew Zalmoxis, designed to reduce the risk or rejection of an imperfectly matched stem cell transplant, from sale in Europe after a confirmatory phase III trial failed last summer. Its next most advanced product is its Car-T project CAR44v6, in a phase I/II trial for acute myeloid leukaemia and multiple myeloma. This looks unlikely to yield data before 2023.
Molmed does have another string to its bow that could appeal to AGC: it is the first company in Europe to have obtained GMP manufacturing authorisation for cell and gene therapies ex vivo, and offers this to other groups. For example, it produces Strimvelis, Orchard Therapeutics’ gene therapy for the immunodeficiency disorder ADA-SCID.
Closure is odds-on, since Molmed’s largest shareholder, Fininvest – the holding company of the family of the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – has agreed to tender its 23% stake. Hopefully, in buying this very specialised company, AGC knows what it is doing.