With the acquisition by Lonza, Dutch bioconjugation company Synaffix starts another another new chapter. ‘This creates interesting opportunities to really boost our R&D and scale-up.’
At first glance, nothing seems to have changed at Synaffix, the Dutch bioconjugation pioneers. The company is still housed in the same offices and labs of the same share-spaces building at life sciences campus Pivot Park in Oss. Floris van Delft, who together with Sander van Berkel started the company in 2010 as a spin-off from Radboud University, hasn’t changed since our last meeting in early April. But there have been massive changes over the last few weeks, considering the news announcement on June 1st that Synaffix is acquired by Swiss custom development and manufacturing organisation Lonza for the sweet sum of up to €160 million (of which €100 million upfront).
Quite a change and moreover, it is one of the larger acquisitions in recent years of a Dutch chemistry/life sciences start-up. It is therefore also a nice boost for the whole field, which is mostly labeled “difficult” and “risky” by investors. Van Delft remains down-to-earth. ‘In practice, it is business as usual. We will stay in Oss and even expand our team and facilities here.’
Nevertheless, it is ‘a dream scenario’, says Van Delft, referring to Lonza and the opportunities this move offers for the further development of Synaffix’s metal-free click chemistry platform. ‘Lonza is an international leader and has a solid reputation as a provider of high-quality services. That such a party decides to acquire us is a quality mark for Synaffix and for our technology.’
Within the much larger Lonza-organisation, Synaffix will remain an independent entity that will operate as a bioconjugation Centre of Excellence. Van Delft: ‘Lonza already has several such centres that are very complementary to our activities. There are interesting opportunities there to really boost our R&D. For example, for integrating antibody production with that of ADCs [antibody-drug conjugates, ed.] or using bioconjugation for targeted gene therapy.’
When asked whether Synaffix was actively looking for a buyer and if there were other interested parties, Van Delft is evasive. But it was no surprise “something” would happen at a certain moment. ‘We were a venture capital-backed company, so an exit was always the plan. Investors want their returns at some point. It could also have been an acquisition by a pharma company, but our growing portfolio of licensing deals would be less attractive for such a party, but all the more so for a CDMO like Lonza.’
It’s a very logical match, says Van Delft. ‘With us on board, Lonza can now offer the whole process from early research to production on a commercial scale. Moreover, they now get the income from the licensing contacts and it offers them the prospect of new manufacturing deals. The acquisition also fits Lonza’s strategy to offer more proprietary technology.’ Both parties have collaborated on various projects for quite some time. ‘We have slowly built a relationship. The deal was preceded by a very thorough process, during which Lonza really turned us inside out. They know exactly what they are buying and that provides confidence.’
Van Delft emphasises that Lonza is not only buying the technology and licensing portfolio, but also the people. ‘For them, the whole team is essential.’ For himself, it means a new job title. No longer chief scientific officer, but head of R&D Synaffix. At 54, Van Delft is not yet ready for retirement. ‘On the contrary, I see lots of opportunities for new projects