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Prelude Therapeutics to hire 49 in Delaware; and Roche-Spark deal is delayed again

Prelude is headed by Kris Vaddi, a former top drug developer at Wilmington-based Incyte.

Kris Vaddi, founder and chief executive officer of Prelude Therapeutics.
Kris Vaddi, founder and chief executive officer of Prelude Therapeutics.Read morePrelude Therapeutics (custom credit)

Prelude Therapeutics, one of the biotech companies growing up in the state-backed Delaware Innovation Space at the DuPont Experimental Station just outside Wilmington, has pledged to hire up to 49 biotech professionals and find larger quarters in the state, to win a commitment for taxpayer financing.

Prelude, headed by Kris Vaddi, a former top drug developer at Wilmington-based Incyte, has raised nearly $100 million from investors led by OrbiMed Advisors LLC of New York. Like Incyte, Prelude develops cancer treatments based on altering tumor cell pathways.

The firm says it is outgrowing its current quarters, in two of the buildings given up by DuPont for use by local start-ups, after the chemical giant sold and spun off some business units, consolidated basic research, and moved development scientists closer to its business operations.

Founded in 2016, Prelude plans to invest $5 million in its new headquarters, state officials said in a statement. The state-funded Council on Development Finance has agreed to give Prelude $830,000 in Delaware Strategic Fund grants, based on the company’s meeting its hiring goals to boost its current 32 workers to 81 over the next three years, including scientists and “skilled associates.”

In a statement, Delaware Gov. John Carney called Prelude one of his state’s “most exciting and innovative startups,” and celebrated Prelude’s decision to stay in Delaware. Neighboring Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland also offer state or local support for biopharma start-ups and expansion.

Since the late 2000s, when Delaware was stricken by the loss of auto-assembly, chemical, and steel plants, state officials have looked to biotech and financial technology (fintech) to get the economy growing.

“We sincerely appreciate the continued support from the state of Delaware,” said Vaddi in a statement. He said the region is a good place to hire for bioparma jobs. The U.S. 202 corridor in New Castle, Chester, and Montgomery Counties is home to a large concentration of drug companies while start-ups are spread throughout the area.

Vaddi founded Prelude in 2016 after leaving Incyte, where he was a founding scientist credited with setting up the research program that led to Incyte’s Jakafi treatment for myelofibrosis and Olumiant for rheumatoid arthritis.

Top Prelude managers include chief scientific officer Peggy Scherle, former group vice president at Incyte, and chief medical officer David Mauro, a veteran of Bristol Myers Squibb.

The Prelude board includes David Bonita,partner at OrbiMed Advisors LLC, Prelude’s lead investor; Paul Friedman, a former Incyte chief executive and DuPont Pharmaceuticals research chief; and Kelvin M. Neu,, partner at Baker Brothers Investments.

In other gene-therapy news...

The Swiss drugmaker Roche has again extended its takeover offer for Philadelphia-based Spark Therapeutics. Roche had offered to buy all Spark shares, most recently by an extended Oct. 30 deadline, but told the Securities and Exchange Commission it has now extended the deadline until 5 p.m. Nov. 30.

“The Offer was extended to provide additional time for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ( “FTC”) and the UK Competition and Markets Authority to complete their previously disclosed reviews of Roche’s pending acquisition of Spark,” Spark told the SEC. “The parties remain committed to the transaction and are working cooperatively and expeditiously with the FTC and the CMA.”

The sale, first announced last winter, was the biggest payout for a gene-therapy company since doctors at research hospitals began gene-therapy trials in the 1990s. But Roche and Spark have had to delay the deal closing several times, as U.S. and U.K. regulators consider how the combination will change the companies’ incentives and plans to speed product development, and how that could affect prices and availability of their therapies.

The stock has lately traded within $5 of Roche’s $114.50 a share offer price, up from a discount of more than $15 in September.