Grifols Moves Deeper Into Proteome R&D With $146M Deal for Alkahest

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Alkahest, a company that analyzes blood proteins to develop therapies that address neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, is set to be acquired by partner Grifols in a $146 million deal.

Grifols (NASDAQ: GRFS) announced Tuesday that it is acquiring the shares of privately held Alkahest that it does not already own. Barcelona, Spain-based Grifols says the deal will help it discover new therapies for age-related diseases.

Alkahest develops its therapeutic candidates by analyzing the proteome, the range of proteins produced by cells, tissues and organs. The San Carlos, CA-based biotech’s research on the proteome of plasma identified chronokines, proteins that the company says increase or decrease with age. Alkahest analyzed these proteins to find the ones that affect biological aging. Chronokines decrease with age. Alkahest says its drugs are meant to replenish the chronokines that have a positive effect on the brain.

Meanwhile, Grifols’s focus is developing and selling plasma-based therapies. Those products generated more than €5 billion (about $5.9 billion) in revenue last year, according to the company’s annual report. Its top-selling therapies—accounting for about 44 percent of sales—are its intravenous immune globulin products, which are used to treat immune deficiencies, inflammatory disorders, neurological diseases, and acute infections.

Grifols has been striking deals in an effort to expand its reach. In 2011, it paid $3.3 billion to acquire Research Triangle Park, NC-based Talecris Biotherapeutics, a rival blood therapies company. Grifols acquired the diagnostics business of Novartis (NYSE: NVS) in a $1.7 billion deal in 2013. Three years later, Grifols reached a $1.9 billion deal to acquire the nucleic acid testing donor screening business of Marlborough, MA-based Hologic (NASDAQ: HOLX).

The partnership with Alkahest began in 2015 when Grifols agreed to pay $50 million for a 47.58 percent stake in the biotech. The companies then began working together to develop plasma-based therapies stemming from Alkahest’s proteome research. The California biotech brought to the alliance its proteome expertise, which yielded therapeutic candidates addressing cognitive decline in aging and other central nervous system disorders, including Alzheimer’s. Grifols manufactures the plasma-based product candidates of Alkahest.

The two most advanced Alkahest drug candidates, GRF-6019 and GRF-6021, are intended to enhance the growth and development of nerve tissue, improve the deficits in learning and memory that come with aging, and reduce neuroinflammation. Late last year, Alkahest reported encouraging data from a Phase 2a study testing GRF-6019 in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. In addition to meeting the main goals of safety and tolerability in patients, the drug also showed signs of slowing the progression of the disease. Specifically, Alkahest said its drug achieved secondary goals of the study by showing limited to no decline in cognitive or functional measures over a six-month treatment period.

The other Alkahest lead compound, GRF-6021, is being evaluated in separate a Phase 2 study in Parkinson’s disease. The company’s pipeline also includes AKST4290, in mid-stage tests for the wet form of age-related macular degeneration as well as Parkinson’s, and AKST1210, which is in Phase 2 development for treating cognitive impairment related to end-stage renal disease.

Alkahest is based on research from Tony Wyss-Coray, a professor of neurology at Stanford University and co-founder of the company. When the acquisition is complete, Alkahest will operate as a subsidiary within Grifols and focus its research on proteins that change with age. The companies say Alkahest has identified more than 8,000 separate proteins so far. Further research will help Grifols develop a complete understanding of the proteome of human plasma, paving the way for new therapeutic and diagnostic products, the Spanish company says. In addition to potentially finding new applications for its current plasma-based therapies, Grifols hopes Alkahest’s technology will support the development of new products, some of which might be small molecules rather than biological products.

“We saw the promise of Alkahest’s understanding of aging when we made our first investment and entered into a collaboration agreement with them five years ago,” Víctor Grífols, co-CEO of Grifols, said in a prepared statement. “Now we see a wealth of plasma-derived and non-plasma therapeutic candidates identified by Alkahest that can significantly support the unmet needs of many diseases associated with aging.”

The Alkahest deal secures Grifols’s move into proteome research, an emerging field that has been attracting investor attention. In May, Seattle-based Nautilus Biotechnology unveiled a $76 million Series B financing to support its technology for analyzing and quantifying the proteome. In July, Redwood City, CA-based Seer closed $55 million in financing to support commercialization plans for its proteome analysis technology.

Grifols says it needs no additional financing to complete the Alkahest acquisition, which still needs approval from antitrust regulators. The companies expect to close the deal early next year.

Image: iStock/R.M. Nunes


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