- Takeda on Tuesday said it will acquire Maverick Therapeutics, a privately held biotech developing antibody drugs for cancer, in a deal potentially worth up to $525 million.
- The Japanese pharma didn't detail what it's paying upfront for Maverick, which just started clinical testing of its lead drug in cancer patients whose tumors have a specific protein. But the deal is the culmination of a 2017 "build-to-buy" agreement through which Takeda helped fund the startup's research in return for an option to later acquire the company for a pre-negotiated price.
- The buyout reflects a recent push by Takeda to become a more nimble and creative biotech partner. The company has amassed a large network of partnerships, teamed up with venture firms to launch biotech startups and formed broad alliances that give smaller firms control of strategic decisions.
Takeda shook up its strategy six years ago. The 240-year old drugmaker brought in Andy Plump, a former Sanofi executive, to run its R&D. And Plump tapped Dan Curran, who had risen through the ranks within Takeda, to head business development. The two took stock of Takeda's reputation as a biotech partner. "We said, well, who does this well?" Curran recalled in a 2019 interview.
The answer they got from external advisers was Celgene, which had become known for a flexible dealmaking approach that led to a sprawling network of alliances with fledgling biotechs. So Takeda modeled itself after Celgene, with Curran and Plump emulating the team of George Golumbeski and Tom Daniel, respectively the business development executive and R&D chief who had shaped that strategy.
"It's trusting your partners," Curran said then, "and giving them the opportunity to take the reins."
Curran has since become the head of Takeda's rare disease division, but the plan he and Plump helped hatch has led to several deals reminiscent of Celgene. The company helped co-launch a startup Ambys Medicines, for instance, and inked broad alliances with Denali Therapeutics, Wave Life Sciences, Shattuck Labs and others. In the case of Maverick Therapeutics, Takeda crafted what's known as a "build to buy" deal, in which a larger company helps usher a smaller one along while holding an option to acquire it in the future.
"You can take a look at those transactions and it mirrors some of the same basic principles" that Celgene's deal team had championed, Curran said in 2019.
Takeda's initial deal with Maverick was forged just a year after the biotech was formed. Takeda agreed to back Maverick's second financing round, acquire equity in the startup, fund its R&D and buy the biotech five years later for an undisclosed sum. Celgene had struck similarly structured deals during Golumbeski and Daniel's tenure with companies like Quanticel Pharmaceuticals and Acetylon Pharmaceuticals.
These agreements can be risky bets for the smaller firm. Some of them don't lead to buyouts, leaving the biotech to chart a new course on its own.
The Takeda and Maverick deal, however, has worked out as intended. Four years after their agreement, the biotech has two bispecific antibodies — drugs that latch onto both tumors and immune cells — that are either in, or close to clinical testing for treating cancer. One is aimed at solid tumors that express the protein EGFR and has entered an early-stage trial. The other is for tumors with a different protein, BH73, and is slated for advancement into human study later this year.
Takeda agreed to buy Maverick "based on the success of the lead program and the promise of the [company's] platform," the company said in a statement. Maverick's drugs are meant to directly target cancerous cells while sparing healthy tissue.
The deal includes an unspecified upfront payment as well as conditional payments tied to development and regulatory targets that could be worth up to $525 million combined.