SK Group has invested 1 trillion won ($900 million) in cross-border acquisitions of pharmaceutical and biotech companies and is looking for a target in the gene and cell therapy drugs market as the firm moves to expand its presence in global markets.

Contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) have been established by the group for chemical and bio pharmaceuticals businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asian markets, industry sources said. SK Group is in negotiations to acquire France’s Yposkesi, which is developing gene and cell therapy drugs for rare diseases, and aims to expand its CMO portfolio beyond chemical synthetic drugs.

The company is drawing up a strategy for additional investment, with some reports suggesting it is seeking a U.S.-based gene and cell therapy drug firm to secure production bases in line with its strategy. Some market insiders believe it may carry out a big ticket cross-border deal in the near term if it finds an appropriate target.

SK Group acquired Bristol-Myers Squibb’s manufacturing facility in Ireland in 2017 for about 170 billion won to support its chemical drug CMO business, in the first instance of a South Korean company acquiring an entire production facility from a global pharmaceutical company. It bought California-based AMPAC Fine Chemicals in the following year for approximately 800 billion won.

Industry insiders expect SK Group to buy an American gene and cell therapy drug before it starts the initial public offering of wholly-owned subsidiary SK Pharmteco, which could happen as early as 2022. SK Holdings is likely to accelerate its establishment of a CMO value chain to boost SK Pharmteco’s enterprise value. (Reporting by Se-hun Jo)

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