- A life sciences fund managed by Blackstone will back Autolus Therapeutics with up to $250 million for development of a cell-based cancer treatment, the latest in a string of biotech-focused deals by the investing giant.
- Per the deal, announced early Monday, Blackstone Life Sciences will make a $100 million equity investment in Autolus and commit $50 million to finance work on an experimental leukemia therapy known as obe-cel. Should the biotech hit certain development and regulatory milestones, Blackstone could fund up to $100 million more and, if obe-cel is approved, Blackstone would also receive royalties on sales.
- The investment is at least the fourth by Blackstone in a publicly traded biotech or medical device maker, following deals with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Reata Pharmaceuticals and Medtronic. The investments come from the largest private equity fund formed to focus on life sciences, a $4.6 billion fund Blackstone closed in July 2020.
Over the past two years, Blackstone, one of the world's largest investment firms, has become a growing force in life sciences investing.
Blackstone first made its biotech ambitions known in October 2018 when it bought Clarus Ventures, a life sciences investment firm with about $2.6 billion under management. Blackstone Life Sciences was formed through that deal, with a goal to, among other things, advance drugs that had been gathering dust on the shelves of pharmaceutical companies.
Blackstone has done that a few times already. In 2019, for instance, the company teamed with Novartis to launch Anthos Therapeutics, a startup developing a blood thinner the Swiss firm had initially discovered. Blackstone then invested in Talaris Therapeutics, which has since gone public to advance a cell therapy treatment that was tossed aside when Novartis dissolved its gene and cell therapy unit.
Since 2020, however, Blackstone has increasingly placed bets on publicly traded biotechs. The company invested up to $2 billion in Alnylam and another $350 million in Reata, each time grabbing equity stakes as well as product royalties. The Alnylam investment gave Blackstone royalty rights to Levqio, a heart drug approved in Europe and under review in the U.S. A kidney drug, bardoxolone, was at the center of the Reata deal. Blackstone put nearly $2.3 billion into Precision Medicine Group, which helps life sciences companies run clinical trials, as well.
Now Blackstone is gambling on the future of obe-cel, a cell therapy Autolus has been developing for leukemia and lymphoma. It's not the first time Blackstone has shown interest in cancer cell therapies: Just two months ago the firm put $250 million into a startup it's launching with Intellia Therapeutics. But the Autolus deal is different, in that the deal relies on obe-cel's potential to stand out in an increasingly crowded field.
Like Novartis' Kymriah, Gilead's Yescarta and Bristol Myers Squibb's Breyanzi, obe-cel is a personalized CAR-T cell therapy for blood cancers. Autolus' treatment also modifies immune cells to go after the same protein target, known as CD19, that each of those marketed treatments, as well as a growing group of more convenient, experimental off-the-shelf alternatives, do.
Autolus, for its part, claims obe-cel can compete on its safety profile. A snippet of clinical data in nine lymphoma and leukemia patients, posted ahead of the American Society of Hematology meeting, showed no severe cases of immune or neurological side effects commonly associated with CAR-T treatments. Eight of nine were disease-free after a median of six months.
The treatment is currently in a study known as Felix that, if positive, could support an approval application.
Autolus shares climbed by about 25% in pre-market trading Monday morning.