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Roche (RHHBY), Ascidian Team Up for RNA Exon Editing Therapeutics

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Swiss pharma giant Roche Holdings (RHHBY - Free Report) entered into a research collaboration and licensing agreement with a biotechnology company, Ascidian Therapeutics, for the discovery and development of RNA exon editing therapeutics targeting neurological diseases.

Ascidian’s exon editing technology is designed to provide the durability of gene therapy by rewriting RNA, while sharply reducing the risks associated with direct DNA editing and gene replacement. This approach has the potential to treat patients with one dose of an RNA exon editor.

Per the terms of the agreement, Roche will get exclusive, target-specific rights to Ascidian’s RNA exon editing technology for undisclosed neurological targets for an initial payment of $42 million. While Ascidian will conduct discovery and certain preclinical activities in collaboration with Roche, the latter will be responsible for certain preclinical activities and further clinical development, manufacturing and commercialization.

In addition, Ascidian is eligible to receive up to $1.8 billion in research, clinical, and commercial milestone payments, as well as royalties on commercial sales worldwide. It also has the liberty to develop programs against other neurological targets internally or with other collaborators.

Roche’s shares have lost 3.4% year to date against the industry’s growth of 20.4%.

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The company is striving to expand its pipeline and diversify through strategic acquisitions and collaborations. In January 2024, Roche acquired a clinical-stage biotechnology company, Carmot Therapeutics, for $2.7 billion to foray into the lucrative obesity space.

The acquisition gave Roche access to Carmot’s differentiated portfolio of incretins, including CT-388, the lead asset, phase-II ready, dual GLP-1/GIP receptor agonist for the treatment of obesity in patients with and without type 2 diabetes. Roche also obtained CT-996, a once-daily oral, small molecule GLP-1 receptor agonist currently in phase-I intended to treat obesity in patients with and without type 2 diabetes, and CT-868, a phase-II, once-daily subcutaneous injectable, dual GLP-1/GIP receptor agonist intended for the treatment of type 1 diabetes patients suffering from obesity.

Roche also entered into a strategic collaboration and licensing agreement with MOMA Therapeutics in January. With this collaboration, Roche has access to MOMA’s proprietary KnowledgeBase platform for the identification and prosecution of a certain number of novel drug targets involved in promoting cancer cell growth and survival.

Roche has also collaborated with MediLink Therapeutics for the development of a next-generation antibody-drug conjugate candidate YL211, targeting c-Mesenchymal epithelial transition factor (c-Met) against solid tumors.

Drugs like Vabysmo, Ocrevus, Hemlibra and Polivy fuel Roche’s top line as the company looks to fill up the dent in sales caused by a decline in COVID-19-related sales. Competition from biosimilars for established drugs like Avastin, MabThera/Rituxan and Herceptin continues to hurt sales. Approval of new drugs should bode well for Roche in this scenario.

Zacks Rank & Stocks to Consider

Roche currently carries a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell).

Some better-ranked stocks in the healthcare sector are Ligand Pharmaceuticals , ALX Oncology Holdings (ALXO - Free Report) and Minerva Neurosciences, Inc. (NERV - Free Report) , each carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) at present. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

In the past 30 days, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for Ligand’s 2024 earnings per share (EPS) has increased 15 cents to $4.71. During the same time frame, the consensus estimate for 2025 EPS has increased 70 cents to $5.90. Year to date, shares of LGND have risen 12.7%.

Ligand beat on earnings in each of the trailing four quarters, delivering an average surprise of 56.02%.

In the past 60 days, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for ALX Oncology’s 2024 loss per share has narrowed from $3.33 to $2.89. During the same period, the consensus estimate for 2025 loss per share has narrowed from $2.85 to $2.73.

ALX Oncology beat on earnings in two of the trailing four quarters and missed the mark in the other two, delivering an average negative surprise of 8.83%.

In the past 60 days, estimates for Minerva Neurosciences’ 2024 loss per share have narrowed from $3.57 to $1.89. Loss per share estimate for 2025 has narrowed from $4.54 to $3.60 during the same time frame.

NERV’s earnings beat estimates in one of the trailing four quarters and missed the same in the other three, the average negative surprise being 54.43%.


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