With BlueRock Acquisition, Bayer Plans to Open Trial of Cell Therapy for Parkinson’s

José Lopes, PhD avatar

by José Lopes, PhD |

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Bayer has announced an agreement to acquire the cell therapy company BlueRock Therapeutics, and plans to open a clinical trial of a potential Parkinson’s stem cell-based treatment this year.

BlueRock, which will remain an independent entity under the plan, has a portfolio that focuses on engineered stem cell therapies to treat illnesses in the fields of neurology, cardiology and immunology.

Its lead program is in Parkinson’s, where preclinical work using BlueRock’s induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology has shown motor function improvement and higher dopamine production by stem cell-derived dopamine-producing neurons — those that are typically lost in distinct brain regions of Parkinson’s patients.

iPSC are derived from either skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back into a stem cell-like state, allowing for the development of a ready source of any type of human cell needed for therapeutic purposes.

According to Bayer, stem cell therapy could help reverse nerve cell degeneration by re-innervating the human brain and restoring motor function to people with Parkinson’s. Patients with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, congestive heart failure, and systemic lupus erythematosus may also benefit from BlueRock’s CELL+GENE platform, as the technology is called. It is designed to develop, manufacture, and deliver cell therapies with high purity, potency, and specificity.

Once the agreement in finalized, Bayer will own full rights to the iPSC technology, gene engineering, and cell differentiation capabilities of CELL+GENE.

“This acquisition marks a major milestone on our path towards a leading position in cell therapy,” Stefan Oelrich, a member of Bayer’s board of management and president of its Pharmaceuticals Division, said in a press release. “In line with our strategy to ramp up our investments in technologies with breakthrough innovation potential, we have decided to build our cell therapy pipeline based on BlueRock Therapeutics’ industry-leading iPSC platform.”

The agreement stems from a joint venture the Leaps by Bayer unit formed with Versant Ventures, setting up BlueRock in 2016. Leaps helps companies to become established and invests in early stage technologies with a potential to better treat, prevent, or cure major health concerns.

Bayer will acquire the remaining stake in the U.S.-based company for about $240 million in the coming months, with an additional $360 million to be given upon achievement of development milestones. The investment corresponds to a total BlueRock value of nearly $1 billion, according to the release.

Bayer’s support, said Emile Nuwaysir, PhD, BlueRock’s CEO, will aid its efforts to “pursue the discovery, development and commercialization of revolutionary new cell therapies” for patients with diseases “previously thought of as intractable.”