Venturing into vaccines

Sanofi Pasteur to buy vaccine supplier Acambis

Amy Swinderman
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PARIS—As prescription drugs sales continue to slump, big pharma's interest in the strong sales growth of vaccines is becoming more evident, as Sanofi Pasteur Holding, the vaccines division of French pharma Sanofi-aventis Group, made an offer in late July to buy British vaccine maker Acambis plc for 190 pence per share, or a total of nearly $549 million.

Sanofi's offer, which builds on its decade-long vaccine development partnership with Acambis, represented a 65 percent premium to Acambis' July 24 closing stock price. Pending shareholder and regulatory approvals, the acquisition is expected to take effect by the end of September.

According to the companies, the acquisition represents the next phase of a collaboration that began 10 years ago when Acambis licensed its dengue vaccine to Sanofi. In February 2007, the companies partnered again to develop and commercialize a Japanese encephalitis vaccine using Acambis' proprietary chimeric vaccine technology, ChimeriVax, which gave the vaccine an ideal product profile—immunity after a single dose, well tolerated, rapid and long-lasting protection and a highly productive manufacturing process. Finally, in November 2007, Acambis performed all of the development work on a West Nile vaccine, also derived from ChimeriVax, with funding from Sanofi.

Acambis manufactured these vaccines at its manufacturing plant in Canton, Mass. The company also has a research center in Cambridge, Mass., with 120 employees. Sanofi, which also has a small research center in Cambridge, will retain both sites.

Sanofi Spokesman Geoffroy Bessaud says the two companies' integration will strengthen Sanofi's position as a global vaccine leader and bolster Acambis' R&D and manufacturing capabilities.

"As we have key vaccines in development, this is a mutually beneficial acquisition and a logical step to building on our partnership," he says. "It provides Acambis with access to our expertise, and provides Sanofi with the opportunity to develop Acambis' broad product pipeline and technology."

Lyndsay Wright, vice president of Acambis communications and investor relations, says Acambis, perhaps best known for its smallpox vaccine, brings to Sanofi a broad pipeline of programs across all stages of development. The only company to have undertaken clinical trials with a C. difficile vaccine to date, Acambis plans to start a proof-of-concept study in the fourth quarter of 2008 to examine whether ACAM-CDIFF can be used both for prevention of relapse and primary prevention of smallpox.

Acambis is also looking to overcome some of the limitations of existing influenza vaccines, targeting a genetically conserved component of the 'A' strains of the influenza virus. Finally, Acambis has licensed technology from Harvard Medical School for a pre-clinical genital herpes vaccine program, Wright says.

"We aim to develop novel vaccines that either target unmet medical needs or provide significant improvements on current standards of care," Wright says. "Within our early-stage portfolio, we have vaccines that a both medically important and targeting very high value commercial opportunities." DDN

Amy Swinderman

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