Bristol to Buy Stake in UniQure, Maker of $1 Million Drug

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Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. agreed to acquire a stake in UniQure NV, maker of the first $1 million drug, in a bet on the promise of gene therapy.

In the pact, Bristol-Myers will get access to UniQure’s proprietary therapy for congestive cardiac failure that’s intended to restore the heart’s ability to synthesize S100A1, a calcium sensor and master regulator of heart function. The companies will also work together on as many as nine additional gene-therapy targets.

Bristol-Myers will make an upfront payment of $50 million and then pay $15 million for the selection of three collaboration targets, in addition to S100A1, within three months of the deal’s closing. UniQure can get milestone payments of as much as $471 million for hitting research and regulatory goals.

Bristol-Myers will also make an initial equity investment in UniQure of at least $32 million, getting a 4.9 percent stake at $33.84 a share. It will acquire an additional 5 percent stake by the end of the year at a 10 percent premium and will have warrants for a further 10 percent interest, with some conditions attached.

UniQure surged 47 percent to $33.61 at the close in New York, giving it a market value of $591.4 million. Bristol-Myers slipped 0.4 percent to $63.

Gene therapies that treat complicated diseases can command extremely high prices and have been embraced by investors. Spark Therapeutics Inc., which targets eye diseases, hit a $1.2 billion valuation on the biotechnology firm’s first day on the market in January. UniQure’s Glybera, which treats familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency, debuted in November with a price tag of as much as 1.1 million euros ($1.2 million) per patient. The treatment targets patients who lack a protein needed to break down fat molecules.

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