AstraZeneca is beefing up its cell and gene therapy potential by collaborating with and investing in French biotech Cellectis, starting out with a $25 million upfront payment and an $80 million equity investment.

AstraZeneca will pay Cellectis $105 million total in the last quarter of this year, taking over a 22% stake in Cellectis and 21% of voting rights. As it buys up 16 million shares at $5 per share, AstraZeneca will also be able to add a non-voting observer to the board.

Cellectis’ stock $CLLS shot up about 157% in premarket trading to $2.49 per share, boosting its market cap to just north of $130 million.

The deal will potentially continue into next year with another $140 million in investment by AstraZeneca, which would result in the Big Pharma holding a total stake of 44% in Cellectis. AstraZeneca “expects to treat its investment in Cellectis as an associate,” the company said.

In exchange, AstraZeneca will use Cellectis’ gene editing technology to design cell and gene therapy candidates, with Cellectis reserving 25 genetic targets just for AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca will have options to earn worldwide exclusive licenses for up to 10 candidates developed from those 25 targets.

On each of those 10 chosen candidates, Cellectis is eligible for an IND option fee and milestone payments from $70 million up to $200 million, plus tiered royalties.

In a separate statement, Cellectis said the therapies would be in oncology, immunology and rare diseases, and that it plans to use AstraZeneca’s investment money for R&D expenses in its developing programs, to develop gene editing tools and for general corporate expenses.

“The differentiated capabilities Cellectis has in gene editing and manufacturing complement our in-house expertise and investments made in the past year,” Alexion CEO and AstraZeneca chief strategy officer Marc Dunoyer said in a statement. “AstraZeneca continues to advance our ambition in cell therapy for oncology and autoimmune diseases as well as in genomic medicine, which has potential to be transformative for patients with rare diseases.”

AstraZeneca’s buy-in of Cellectis follows its subsidiary Alexion picking up a suite of Pfizer’s preclinical gene therapies in July in a deal worth up to $1 billion. In May, AstraZeneca set up a license agreement with Revvity to use the company’s gene editing technology in order to create cell therapies for the treatment of cancer and immune-mediated diseases. That same month, AstraZeneca set up a preclinical research deal with Sernova to see how the cell therapy biotech’s implantable medical device works in combination with cell therapies.

Last November, it acquired Neogene in a $320 million buyout after the company entered the clinic with a cell therapy that would tackle solid tumors.

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PackGene is a CRO & CDMO technology company that specializes in packaging recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) vectors. Since its establishment in 2014, PackGene has been a leader in the AAV vector CRO service field, providing tens of thousands of custom batches of AAV samples to customers in over 20 countries. PackGene offers a one-stop CMC solution for the early development, pre-clinical development, clinical trials, and drug approval of rAAV vector drugs for cell and gene therapy (CGT) companies that is fast, cost-effective, high-quality, and scalable. Additionally, the company provides compliant services for the GMP-scale production of AAVs and plasmids for pharmaceutical companies, utilizing five technology platforms, including the π-Alpha 293 cell AAV high-yield platform and the π-Omega plasmid high-yield platform. PackGene's mission is to make gene therapy affordable and accelerate the launch of innovative gene drugs. The company aims to simplify the challenging aspects of gene therapy development and industrialization processes and provide stable, efficient, and economical rAAV Fast Services to accelerate gene and cell therapy development efforts from discovery phase to commercialization.

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