Saudi PIF-owned Lifera joins forces with Centogene to boost biopharma sector in GCC

Centogene, the 'market leader' in outsourced genetic testing for patients in Saudi Arabia, will receive a $30m mandatory convertible loan as part of the deal

The PIF launched Lifera earlier this month to produce drugs and launch joint ventures with local and international companies. EPA
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Lifera, a biopharmaceutical investment company wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, has joined German biotechnology research company Centogene to establish a joint venture to boost research and bioinformatics infrastructure in the GCC region.

Bioinformatics is a field of science that produces methods and software tools to manage biological data, and is particularly useful when the data sets are large and complex.

Under the agreement, Nasdaq-listed Centogene will receive a $30 million mandatory convertible loan from Lifera. It will, before 2024, convert into common stock of Centogene at a conversion price of $2.20, the entities said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Centogene is currently the “market leader” in outsourced genetic testing for patients in Saudi Arabia, and, through the joint venture, will provide diagnostics to support regional needs, the statement said.

The joint venture also aims to increase local and regional access and rapid delivery of multiomic testing to patients in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. Multiomic refers to the process of identifying molecular markers associated with biological processes.

The partnership is a “reflection of Lifera’s mission to grow Saudi Arabia’s biopharma sector”, said Dr Ibrahim Aljufalli, chairman of Lifera.

“With Centogene’s expertise in the field of rare, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases, we see tremendous potential value for the JV to provide more timely and accurate diagnoses which are crucial to patients and their families.”

The collaboration will also enable biopharma research in rare diseases and provide resources to foster collaborative research across Saudi Arabia and with global partners, Dr Aljufalli added.

Sovereign funds, government-related entities and private sector investors are increasingly looking to invest in the pharma sector following the Covid-19 pandemic to cut their dependence on imports of life-saving drugs and vaccines, develop national resilience, and broaden their manufacturing base.

The PIF launched Pharmaceutical Investment Company, or Lifera, earlier this month to produce drugs and launch joint ventures with local and international companies and develop the country’s pharma industry.

It plans to focus on manufacturing life-saving and essential pharmaceutical products, including insulins, vaccines, plasma therapeutics, monoclonal antibodies, cell and gene therapies, and innovative small molecules.

The PIF, through its strategic investments, “aspires to be a vital enabler, acting as a catalyst to innovate and enhance the healthcare ecosystem, whilst creating significant opportunities for the domestic private sector”, the fund said at the time.

Under the terms of the latest agreement, Lifera and Centogene will make an investment into the joint venture.

Centogene will also be eligible for significant joint venture performance-related milestone payments and revenue-based royalties until 2033, the statement said.

The new joint venture will build an advanced laboratory and bioinformatics infrastructure. It will leverage the Centogene biodatabank, the world’s largest integrated multiomic data repository for rare and neurodegenerative diseases, which has more than 70 million global and 35,000 Saudi patient data sets, the statement said.

It will also develop capabilities for genetic testing and interpretation, serving as a vehicle for large national screening and genomics programmes.

“Teaming up with Lifera marks a significant step forward in our mission to deliver data-driven, life-changing answers to patients around the world and forms a pathway to achieving sustainable growth and profitability for Centogene,” said Kim Stratton, chief executive of Centogene.

“As part of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has designed impressive programmes to improve health outcomes throughout the region. This JV will now build on Centogene’s extensive know-how and current leading position.”

Updated: June 28, 2023, 4:49 PM