CDMO and biotech Forge Biologics will be acquired by Ajinomoto in an all-cash deal worth $620 million, a move that will see the Japan-based multinational conglomerate enter the gene therapy manufacturing space.

“Clearly, Ajinomoto is seeing this as a bet on the future of gene therapy, and that this will become a more important part of CDMO offerings into the future,” Forge board chair Chris Garabedian told Endpoints News in an interview.

The $620 million represents Forge’s enterprise value on a cash-free and debt-free basis. But by the time the purchase is closed, its equity value is estimated to be $554 million, according to a press release.

The deal, which is anticipated to close before the end of the year, would make Forge a fully consolidated subsidiary of Ajinomoto. Forge is headquartered in a 200,000-square-foot cGMP site in Columbus, OH, and employs more than 300 workers.

Forge had many interactions with both investors and possible strategic partners in the past year, Garabedian said. “[And] these processes often evolve and, until you have a company that has the right price, that makes sense — for the Forge management team, the board of directors, the investors — that’s when these deals get consummated,” he noted.

The deal is designed to boost Ajinomoto’s CDMO services, particularly in AAV and plasmid gene therapy manufacturing. Ajinomoto, known for its food seasoning products, also has a CDMO business that provides GMP manufacturing and aseptic fill-finish services for small and large molecules.

A Forge spokesperson said in an email to Endpoints that both companies are “committed to retaining Forge’s talent and ensuring a smooth transition.”

“The management team was a big part of the reason for the acquisition — Ajinomoto really was impressed with Forge’s ability to execute in this space,” Garabedian added. “In terms of all the interactions, the expectation is they [Ajinomoto] want to make sure that they can retain the staff and may even have plans for growth, but that’s up to Ajinomoto post-closing.”

On top of its CDMO services, Forge has two assets under investigation: Phase I/II FBX-101 in Krabbe disease and preclinical candidate FBX-201 for rare monogenic diseases. Since Forge is being wholly acquired, it will advance its clinical pipeline, the spokesperson said. Forge last reported positive data for FBX-101 in February.

“In this current market environment, there’s a lot of concerns about headwinds for our industry. This is at least a signal from a well-regarded CDMO and services firm [Ajinomoto] that they really are betting on growth. And this sector, particularly in gene therapy, will continue to thrive,” Garabedian added.

Forge’s last fundraise was a Series C worth $90 million in September last year. Before that, it closed a $120 million Series B in April 2021 and a $40 million Series A in July 2020.

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