Major acquisition for Scotland's crucial life sciences sector

From Left to right: Ken Macnamara, COO of Synpromics; Rosheen Caw, director of business management of Synpromics; Jude Samulski, co-founder of AskBio; Sheila Mikhail, CEO and co-founder of AskBio; Michael Roberts, CSO and founder of Synpromics and David Venables, CEO of Synpromics. Picture: Contributed
From Left to right: Ken Macnamara, COO of Synpromics; Rosheen Caw, director of business management of Synpromics; Jude Samulski, co-founder of AskBio; Sheila Mikhail, CEO and co-founder of AskBio; Michael Roberts, CSO and founder of Synpromics and David Venables, CEO of Synpromics. Picture: Contributed
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Edinburgh-based gene therapy specialist Synpromics has been acquired by a US-based peer in what has been described as a “game changing deal”.

Synpromics will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of AskBio and remain headquartered in the Scottish capital.

North Carolina-headquartered AskBio said the deal would significantly expand its gene therapy technology portfolio.

The Scottish firm, which was founded in 2010 by Michael Roberts and is based at the £30 million Roslin Innovation Centre, is seen as one of the leaders in the gene therapy field and a bright hope for the country’s life sciences sector.

David Venables, who will remain as chief executive of Synpromics, said: “The significant possibilities that our two companies represent for the advancement of gene therapy cannot be overstated.

“Aligning the scientific expertise of our company with the unparalleled vision of [AskBio co-founder] Jude Samulski and AskBio’s adeno-associated virus (AAV) platform technology can transform the quality, efficacy and safety of gene therapy vectors, ultimately allowing for a wider scope of diseases treatable by AAV therapeutics.”

Financial terms have not been disclosed.

Fund manager Calculus Capital, which first invested in Synpromics in 2015 and has pumped £5.6m into the company in total, will receive a return on investment that “significantly” exceeds target returns.

John Glencross, chief executive of Calculus Capital, said: “While the financial terms of the acquisition are undisclosed, the deal will give Calculus investors an impressive return multiple on their investment.

“We are proud to deliver such an exceptional level of performance within four years. The deal is further enhanced by the potential to benefit from future licensing fees on the company’s existing portfolio of licences.”

AskBio was founded by Samulski, the first scientist to clone AAV, along with Xiao Xiao, who was the first to develop a miniaturised dystrophin gene enabling the advancement of gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a severe muscle condition affecting young children – and Sheila Mikhail, the firm’s chief executive.

Mikhail said: “With the Synpromics acquisition, we have enhanced our collective ability to develop highly targeted and maximally expressed gene therapies.

“Today AskBio is better positioned to tackle larger pathway diseases, as we continue our efforts to bring curative therapies for rare disease to patients in need.”

Last year, Synpromics’ boss Venables collected the “disruptor” award at the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year event.

In May 2018, the firm was awarded a £1.9m grant to expand its programme of cell and gene therapy. It is pioneering research that could unlock a one treatment cure for diseases such as leukaemia and certain types of blindness.

The Scottish Enterprise research and development grant was to enable the company to invest a total of £5.4m in this area, creating 11 jobs.