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Vertex to buy kidney disease drugmaker Alpine for $4.9B

Dive Brief:

  • Vertex Pharmaceuticals on Wednesday said it would buy biotechnology company Alpine Immune Sciences and its experimental kidney disease drug for $65 per share, or approximately $4.9 billion in cash.
  • Through the deal, which the companies expect to close in the second quarter, Vertex will gain access to povetacicept, a therapy for IgA nephropathy, or IgAN. The drug is set to enter Phase 3 testing by the end of the year. 
  • The acquisition is the largest in Vertex’s 35-year history and comes as the company works to expand into kidney disease treatment.

Dive Insight:

Vertex has for years sought ways to branch out beyond its highly successful cystic fibrosis medicines, which have catapulted it into the top ranks of the biotech industry. 

That strategy has led it in several different directions, among them pain, sickle cell disease, Type 1 diabetes and a rare lung disease known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

The kidney has been another target. Earlier this month, Vertex disclosed plans to advance a therapy called inaxaplin into late-stage testing for kidney disease caused by mutations in a gene called APOL1.

Buying Alpine will build on those efforts in a big way. “We see this acquisition of Alpine as just the right fit with just the right assets, at just the right phase of development,” Reshma Kewalramani, Vertex’s CEO, said in a Wednesday investor call.

Alpine’s drug, povetacicept, works by inhibiting two proteins dubbed APRIL and BAFF in people with IgAN. The chronic disease is characterized by blood in urine, swelling in hands and feet and upper respiratory infections. IgAN can eventually lead to end-stage renal disease.

An estimated 130,000 patients in the U.S. have IgAN. While no therapies are approved to target the disease’s cause, several are approved to treat symptoms.

The disease has become a target for biotechs and pharmas alike, including Novartis, which purchased Chinook Therapeutics and experimental its IgAN treatment last year. Novartis is also developing a drug called iptacopan for at least five different kidney-related conditions.

In October, the Swiss pharma said that patients treated with the drug demonstrated “clinically meaningful and highly statistically significant” reductions in the amount of protein in their urine, a marker of kidney health. The company this year plans to ask regulators in the U.S. for approval.

Launched in 2015, Alpine went public via a reverse merger in 2017. It has been led by Mitch Gold, the former head of cancer biotech Dendreon. Alpine employs approximately 145 employees and is headquartered in Seattle.

Vertex shares slipped 1% in after-market trading. Shares in Alpine, meanwhile, have risen by nearly 150% so far this year, and climbed another 36% after market close Wednesday.