Vertex to Acquire Semma Therapeutics in $950-Million Deal

Published on: 

Vertex will use the acquisition to develop cell-based treatments for type 1 diabetes.

On Sept. 3, 2019, Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Semma Therapeutics, a privately held Cambridge, MA-based biotechnology company, for $950 million in cash. Semma specializes in using stem cell-derived human islets as a potentially curative treatment for type 1 diabetes.

Semma has made two major scientific advances, according to the company: the ability to produce large quantities of functional human pancreatic beta cells that restore insulin secretion and ameliorate hypoglycemia in animal models and a novel device that encapsulates and protects these cells from the immune system, enabling durable implantation without the need for ongoing immunosuppressive therapy.

Under the acquisition agreement, Vertex will acquire all outstanding shares of Semma for $950 million in cash, and Semma will become a separate operating subsidiary of Vertex. Bastiano Sanna, PhD, president and CEO of Semma, will join Vertex as president of Semma, and Douglas Melton, PhD, scientific founder of Semma, will continue in his role as chair of Semma’s scientific advisory board and will provide oversight and guidance on the research and development of the programs.

The companies anticipate the acquisition will close in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to certain conditions, including the expiration of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act and other customary conditions.

“This acquisition aligns perfectly with our strategy of investing in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases in specialty markets,” said Jeffrey Leiden, MD, PhD, chairman, president, and CEO of Vertex, in a company press release. “We are excited to work with the talented scientists at Semma to build on their significant progress toward providing effective and potentially curative cell therapy options for people living with type 1 diabetes. We see a substantial opportunity to transform the treatment paradigm for type 1 diabetes, a specialty disease cared for by endocrinologists, both by advancing the development and manufacturing of the cells themselves, as well as through the highly innovative cell/device combination.”


“The therapeutic approach pioneered by Semma has the potential to address the causal human biology of type 1 diabetes, a serious disease inadequately controlled by existing therapies. Unlike insulin injections and insulin pumps, islet cell transplantation can provide physiologic regulation of blood glucose thereby potentially ameliorating or preventing both the hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic episodes associated with the current standards of care,” said David Altshuler, MD, PhD, executive vice-president, global research and chief scientific officer of Vertex, in the press release. “Their compelling proof-of-concept data in animals demonstrates the opportunity to develop transformative and potentially curative therapies to treat people with type 1 diabetes. In addition, the acquisition of Semma continues to expand the Vertex toolbox of cutting-edge technologies and capabilities and bolsters our team of leading scientists.”

“Type 1 diabetes is a disease that afflicts millions of people worldwide and has no curative therapies available,” added Sanna in the press release. “Vertex has a proven track record of serial innovation and a deep commitment to developing transformative therapies for patients in need. Being a part of Vertex will allow the Semma team to rapidly and effectively advance our cell therapy and delivery approaches to patients who need them.”

“Semma was founded to dramatically improve the lives of patients with type 1 diabetes,” Melton also said in the press release. “Vertex is ideally suited to accelerate the achievement of this goal.”

Source: Vertex Pharmaceuticals