Inotek Pharmaceuticals has entered into a definitive merger agreement with Rocket Pharmaceuticals, a U.S.-based gene therapy company. Subject to shareholder approval, the combined company will retain the name Rocket Pharmaceuticals and will be headquartered in New York City. The combined company will focus on developing and advancing its pipeline of gene therapies based on lentiviral virus (LVV) and adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy platforms, with a focus on treating devastating rare diseases.
“We have conducted an exhaustive strategic process focused on proactively identifying assets that have clear biological plausibility and a high unmet need. As a result of this process, I’m delighted to announce a merger with Rocket as the best scenario for value creation for our stockholders,” said David P. Southwell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Inotek.
“Rocket is a leader in developing first-in-class gene therapies for patients with rare genetic diseases with complex and challenging treatment options, such as bone marrow and organ transplants. We believe the combined company will be well-funded, and it will be led by Gaurav Shah, MD, who was formerly a CART-19 Global Program Head in the Cell and Gene Therapies Unit at Novartis. In addition to Gaurav, Rocket has a seasoned team of gene therapy and rare disease drug development experts,” said Southwell. “The proposed transaction will provide significant and immediate value to accelerate the development of Rocket’s five distinct programs.”
Rocket’s focus for its lentiviral gene therapies is bone marrow disorders caused by gene mutations. Lead programs include Fanconi Anemia (FA), Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency-1 (LAD-1) and Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PKD). Current treatment options available for patients with these diseases are limited and include allogeneic bone marrow transplant procedures, which are often complicated by graft versus host disease and a lack of available donors. Rocket’s gene therapy approach could be potentially curative and replace or pre-empt the need for transplant. Longer term, Rocket is also developing a lentiviral-based gene therapy for infantile malignant osteopetrosis, an inherited bone disorder.
In addition, Rocket is advancing an AAV-based program for an undisclosed rare pediatric disease with a significant estimated patient population size (15,000+ prevalence in the US/EU).
“Our vision is to create a fully-integrated platform gene therapy company with a portfolio of distinct treatments for devastating genetic diseases,” said Gaurav Shah, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of Rocket. “FA, LAD-1 and PKD are near term opportunities in rare bone marrow-derived disorders. The AAV-based approach, while earlier, will target treatment of a broader range of challenging diseases.”
Shah continued, “We are inspired by the passion for science and dedication to patients which David and his team have exemplified, and honored to be on this journey together. With this transaction, Rocket’s rich pipeline will progress even more rapidly into what we already see as a transformational year for the company. We expect to enter the clinic in 2018, with clinical proof of concept data from one or more of the lentiviral programs in 2018.”
Under the terms of the merger agreement, shareholders of Rocket will receive shares of newly issued Inotek common shares in a private placement. Rocket shareholders are expected to own approximately 81% of the combined company and current Inotek shareholders will own approximately 19% of the combined company. The percentage of the combined company that Rocket’s shareholders will own as of the close of the transaction is subject to adjustment based on the amount of Inotek’s net cash at the closing date. The merger agreement contains further details with respect to this adjustment and the transaction. The transaction has been unanimously approved by the Board of Directors of both companies. The merger is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018, subject to customary closing conditions, including the approval by stockholders of Inotek.
Inotek also announced that it is reducing its workforce by approximately 60% to a total of seven full-time employees, which is expected to be completed in the third quarter. All affected employees are being offered severance and transition benefits.