- Genetic medicines maker Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has entered into what it claims is "one of the largest ever private financings of a biotech company," announcing Monday a potentially $2 billion investment from private equity firm Blackstone.
- Per deal terms, Blackstone will pay $1 billion in exchange for half of Alnylam's share of royalties and commercial milestones tied to an experimental heart drug. About seven years ago, Alnylam licensed the drug to The Medicines Co., which recently became a part of Swiss pharma giant Novartis through a nearly $10 billion buyout.
- Additionally, Blackstone will purchase $100 million worth of Alnylam stock, provide up to $150 million for Alnylam to develop two of its other cardiometabolic drugs, and offer a loan worth up to $750 million.
Blackstone is one of private equity's most powerful and influential groups, reporting $571 billion worth of assets under management through the end of last year.
Over the past few years, the company has pushed further into the pharmaceutical and biotech sector. In late 2018, it agreed to buy life sciences investment firm Clarus. And in a busy 2019, Blackstone led a $100 million fundraising round for Talaris Therapeutics, joined forces with Novartis to launch Anthos Therapeutics and invested $400 million toward the development of a gene therapy for bladder cancer.
Along the way, Blackstone has also been working on a $4.6 billion life sciences fund, three-quarters of which had been raised by January of this year.
Now, the company has its sights set on Alnylam, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech known for its drugs that interrupt the production of disease-causing proteins.
Alnylam creates these drugs through a technology called RNA interference, which, in essence, smudges the genetic instructions that cells would need to make the unwanted protein. It's a technology that has attracted large drugmaking companies — Alnylam has inked partnerships with Sanofi and Regeneron — and underpinned the approval of two of the company's rare disease drugs, Onpattro and Givlaari.
"Alnylam's RNAi technology represents one of the most promising and rapidly advancing frontiers in biology and drug development today, and aligns perfectly with our investment strategy," Nicholas Galakatos, head of Blackstone Life Sciences, said in an April 13 statement.
Advances in RNAi are happening quickly now, but come after a decade and a half of loss-making research and development. Large pharma companies entered and left the field during that span, and only recently have returned in a big way. Novartis' takeout of The Medicines Co., coupled with licensing deals by Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Roche and Novo Nordisk, point to the potential seen in the technology, which is also being developed by companies like Dicerna Pharmacetuails and Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals.
For Alnylam, which ended 2019 with $1.5 billion in cash, equivalents and marketable securities, the Blackstone investment provides a "bridge towards a self-sustainable financial profile" that also frees the biotech from needing additional equity financing in the future, according to CEO John Maraganore. Last year, Alnylam recorded net revenue of $167 million and $53 million, respectively, from products and collaborations.
Through its licensing deal with The Medicines Co., Alnylam may receive up to $100 million in commercialization milestone payments, plus royalties ranging in percentage from the low to high teens.
At the center of that deal, as well as this new one with Blackstone, is an RNA drug named inclisiran. The drug has been in testing as a treatment for lowering "bad" cholesterol. Late-stage data published in September showed inclisiran lowered low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 54% compared to placebo in patients who were already on a maximum dose of statins.
The Medicines Co. submitted inclisiran for Food and Drug Administration approval late last year and Novartis has since confirmed the agency is reviewing the therapy.
Alnylam shares were up 3% at market's open Monday, though they fell back down by late morning. Meanwhile, Blackstone shares were down by 6%.