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Czech billionaire Kellner's PPF Group expands in biotech with Autolus stake

PRAGUE, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Investment group PPF, controlled by the Czech Republic's richest man Petr Kellner, has acquired a 19.2% stake in biopharmaceutical firm Autolus Therapeutics , it said on Monday, making it the company's biggest shareholder.

PPF did not disclose the price of the acquisition, made through share purchases on the NASDAQ. Autolus had a market capitalisation of $607 million at Friday's close, though its shares have lost 60% so far this year.

PPF Group said that UK-based Autolus was developing a pipeline of next generation T-cell therapies - which use the body's immune system to target cancer cells - for both haematological cancers and solid tumours.

Its lead program, focusing on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies, was entering a "pivotal phase" and could be ready to file for marketing in 2021, PPF said.

"The data published by Autolus on their CAR-T programs is very promising and their long-term ambitions are a perfect match with PPF’s strategy in healthcare," PPF shareholder and manager in charge of biotech activities Ladislav Bartonicek said.

PPF already owns Czech-based biotech firm Sotio, which is focused on development therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases and has started clinical trials.

PPF's other investments range from lenders to real estate and telecommunications in Europe and Asia, including Czech telecom operator O2 Czech Republic and global consumer lender Home Credit. (Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Jan Harvey)