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Durham’s AskBio, led by Samulski and Mikhail, sells for $4B

Renowned Research Triangle scientist Jude Samulski and longtime business partner Sheila Mikhail have pulled off one of the biggest bioscience deals in North Carolina history.  Germany’s Bayer AG is acquiring Durham-based Asklepios BioPharmaceutical, or AskBio, for $4 billion. Bayer will pay $2 billion upfront and as much as $2 billion in milestone payments.

In 2001, Mikhail and scientists Samulski and Xiao Xiao founded AskBio to monetize gene therapy research that Samulski pioneered as a professor at UNC Chapel Hill. The company spun off Bamboo Therapeutics, where Mikhail as CEO helped raised $50 million and developed the business through its sale to Pfizer in 2016 in a deal valued at $827 million.

Last year AskBio raised $235 million, the largest capital raise by an N.C. bioscience company, with plans to make acquisitions and build a commercial manufacturing business. The investors were Vita Ventures of Boston and TPG Capital of Fort Worth, Texas.

Bayer, which is best known for developing aspirin, says AskBio will operate as an independent company, according to a release about the transaction.

Bayer’s shares have slumped because of its 2018 acquisition of Monsanto, whose Roundup herbicide is caught in massive litigation problems.

In a release, Mikhail said, “With Bayer‘s worldwide reach and translational expertise, especially in pathway diseases, our combined cultures of scientific advancement and commitment to patients, along with the retention of AskBio’s independent structure, Bayer and AskBio are positioned to provide accelerated development of gene therapies to treat more patients who can benefit from them.”

It’s Bayer’s biggest pharma-related acquisition since 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Samulski was director of the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center for 25 years. He remains a pharmacology professor at the Chapel Hill university. He earned a Ph.D at the University of Florida.

Mikhail is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law and has an MBA from the University of Chicago.

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David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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