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Boosting vaccine vitality
LONDON—In a move that enhances its early-stage vaccine pipeline, GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) has acquired Zürich-Schlieren, Switzerland-based GlycoVaxyn AG, a specialist vaccine biopharmaceutical company. GSK has paid $190 million to purchase the remaining stake in GlycoVaxyn, which is valued at $212 million. Per the terms of the deal, GSK will acquire a small number of early-stage vaccines being developed against bacterial infections such as pneumonia, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus aureus and Shigella.
GlycoVaxyn was incorporated in 2004 as a spin-off from ETH Zurich and specializes in developing next-generation bioconjugate vaccines against bacterial infection. The company has an E. coli vaccine candidate in Phase 1 clinical trials, and expects to begin a Phase 1 trial for a shigellosis vaccine in the United States in the first quarter of this year, with financial support from the Wellcome Trust. GlycoVaxyn brings with it 50 employees.
“This is an exciting opportunity to expand our research efforts to develop a new generation of vaccines for common and severe bacterial infections, for many of which there are currently no effective vaccines,” Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chairman of vaccines at GSK, commented on the transaction. “It reinforces our commitment to seek out and invest in great science and complements our proposed transaction with Novartis, which will strengthen our leading position in vaccines.” (That transaction was completed March 2 as this issue was going to press, and with it GSK has, among other things, acquired Novartis AG’s global vaccines business, excluding influenza vaccines.)
This GlycoVaxyn deal builds off of an existing relationship with GSK that began in 2012. GlycoVaxyn announced Dec. 19, 2012, that it had begun a collaboration with GSK Biologicals for the development of new bacterial vaccines using GlycoVaxyn’s bioconjugation technology. The agreement included an undisclosed set of pathogen targets within the field of bacterial vaccines, and GSK had an option to obtain an exclusive license on the targets during the three years of the collaboration’s duration and to extend both the length and scope of the deal. In addition, GSK made an upfront payment to GlycoVaxyn as well as an equity investment in the company. GlycoVaxyn was eligible to receive milestone payments and royalties on any licensed vaccine candidates.
“Since the spinoff from ETH Zurich, we have successfully advanced our biological conjugation technology and developed a strong pipeline of vaccine candidates. We are delighted to now work even closer with one of the leading vaccine companies in the world on the development of much-needed vaccines,” said Michael Wacker, co-founder and chief scientific officer of GlycoVaxyn.
GlycoVaxyn’s bioconjugation platform enables the development and production of immunogenic glycoprotein conjugates via a biological process that bypasses many of the challenges faced with current chemical methods. The company notes that its platform “has broad potential applications in the field of bacterial vaccines, but also in viral and cancer vaccines and human therapeutic proteins.” The platform offers versatility across many pathogens and conjugates because it “enables the combination of any polysaccharide antigen with any protein antigen,” and also offers batch-to-batch consistency. GlycoVaxyn’s vaccines are highly immunogenic, the company explains on its website, because they “[express] polysaccharide epitopes in their most native (natural) conformation and [combine] them with the most immunogenic protein carriers also in a well-defined and preserved natural conformation.”
This is the latest move in GSK’s efforts to boost its vaccines portfolio. Back in June 2014, GSK announced its three-part asset swap with Novartis. Under that agreement, GSK acquired Novartis’ global vaccines business, aside from influenza vaccines, for an initial cash consideration of $5.25 billion, with the potential for milestone payments of up to $1.8 billion and ongoing royalties. In conjunction with the acquisition, GSK agreed to sell Nimenrix and Mencevax, its meningitis vaccines, on a global basis, as well as divesting two small Novartis bivalent vaccines for protection against diphtheria and tetanus in Italy and Germany.