August 14, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

What is Astellas Pharma, the purchaser of Ocata?

Fish eating fish
Photo from freestockphotos

Astellas Pharma is on track to purchase Ocata Therapeutics (formerly Advanced Cell Technology).

This has stirred a lot of strong feelings amongst investors in Ocata. (Update, now almost 5 years later, the Ocata vision program is still not going full steam ahead at its new owner it seems).

I’ve also been wondering what exactly is Astellas Pharma?

Astellas is a giant compared to Ocata with reportedly $11 billion USD in revenue and $1.3 billion in profit just in the year 2013 alone. While Ocata was worried about a few million dollars here or there, Astellas operates in the billions.

Not only that, but Astellas is just part of a much larger entity called Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, which has more than $2 trillion (yes, with a T) in holdings. So you almost have to imagine one of those drawings with increasingly bigger fish eating smaller and smaller fish. Mitsubishi UFJ is a blue whale to Ocata’s minnow.

There are many unanswered questions at this point.

Some have pointed out that this is a Japanese company buying an American biotech that has received NIH funding. Should there be special considerations in a case like that? I’m not aware of that issue playing a significant role in past purchases of this kind.

Will this purchase provide an influx of much needed financial support to Ocata’s pipeline and in the end help patients? Or could Ocata’s work get lost inside the whale? Time will tell.

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