Shares of gene-editing pioneer Editas Medicine (NASDAQ: EDIT) rose over 14% today after Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) announced it will acquire the remaining 90% of Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) it didn't already own. The $9 billion blockbuster deal is just the latest in the biopharma sector for companies developing novel chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) and T-cell receptor (TCR) therapies as potential cancer treatments.
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What's the big deal for Editas Medicine? While many stocks are moving on today's news simply because they're developing unrelated CAR-T therapies, the gene-editing pioneer is actually partnered with Juno Therapeutics. The goal of the partnership is to combine the best of both technology platforms. That is, to deploy CRISPR gene-editing technology to more efficiently engineer CAR-T and TCR therapeutics, potentially resulting in safer and more effective treatments with fewer side effects.
As of 3:30 p.m. EST Monday, the stock had settled to a 12.1% gain.
Editas Medicine and Juno Therapeutics tied the knot in the summer of 2015, initially agreeing to work on three undisclosed clinical programs. The gene-editing pioneer received a cool $25 million up front, the opportunity to be reimbursed up to $22 million for initial research in the first five years, and the potential to earn up to $230 million in milestone payments for each drug candidate. The total potential value of the deal was $737 million.
While Celgene gobbling up Juno Therapeutics won't change any details of the development deal with Editas Medicine, it does signal a high level of seriousness regarding the CAR-T and TCR platforms. Considering that the gene-editing pioneer's CRISPR technology could enable more efficient immunotherapies, Wall Street is correctly identifying that the two companies' wagons are hitched -- to a certain extent, anyway. And having a much deeper-pocketed partner on board certainly has the potential to de-risk the financial aspects of development.
Just about every biopharma stock even remotely associated with CAR-T therapeutics received a little boost today after the $9 billion deal for Juno Therapeutics was announced. While it may be difficult to justify the staying power of those gains for most companies, Editas Medicine has a stronger argument to make.
That said, the development deal with Juno Therapeutics will take several years to show demonstrable results in the clinic (the initial R&D period doesn't end until 2020), and Celgene's first priority will be readying its newly acquired immunotherapy pipeline for market approval. That doesn't (yet) involve the gene-editing pioneer, but the long-term potential is brighter after today.
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Maxx Chatsko has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Celgene. The Motley Fool recommends Editas Medicine and Juno Therapeutics. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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