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Universal Cells CEO Claudia Mitchell. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Astellas Pharma, a Japanese pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, is acquiring Seattle biotech Universal Cells.

Astellas will pay up to $102.5 million for Universal Cells in upfront and milestone payments, assuming the company hits certain benchmarks in developing its universal stem cell technology. The technology genetically alters stem cells so that they can be used by anyone, instead of patients needing to use a their own stem cells or find donor stem cells with matching biomarkers.

“We are thrilled to be able to leverage the full potential of our Universal Donor Cell technology by becoming an intrinsic part of Astellas’ effort to fulfill the promises of regenerative medicine to treat diseases,” Claudia Mitchell, Universal Cells CEO, said in a news release. “The acquisition represents the recognition of the immense potential of our unique technology and of the outstanding work done by our team at Universal Cells.”

The deal makes Universal Cells the third Seattle biotech company to be acquired in the past month. Biotech giant Celgene reached a deal to acquire Juno Therapeutics for $9 billion and Seattle Genetics will pay $614 million to acquire Cascadian Therapeutics.

The trend may be fueled in part by the recent tax overhaul, which was cited as one reason Celgene acquired Juno. The tax changes included a one-time offer to let companies repatriate overseas holdings into the U.S., bringing billions into the country and freeing up the capital needed for acquisitions.

But the trend also points to another narrative: The Seattle region has a hard time hanging on to biotech and health companies, particularly large public ones. As acquisitions tick up, the number of independent biotech companies in the city ticks down.

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