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GSK makes strategic biotech acquisition

Published on 06/05/05 at 11:04am


GlaxoSmithKline will acquire a Seattle-based biotech that manufactures a key component in many of the candidates in its vaccine pipeline, including potential blockbuster cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix.

The cash for stock deal values Corixa at around $300 million and includes a candidate prophylactic tuberculosis vaccine, a portfolio of candidate immunotherapeutic cancer vaccines and a manufacturing plant for Monophosphoryl Lipid A (MPL).

MPL is an important component in many of GSK's most promising vaccines under development, including Cervarix, and the president of GSK Biologicals, Jean Stephenne, said it was an important strategic deal for the vaccines division.

GSK aims to file Cervarix with regulators next year and chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier has spoken of his high hopes for the vaccine's future prospects.

"Cervarix will be the largest-ever vaccine ever sold, there has never been a vaccine with such a potential audience," he told Bloomberg Television.

Cervarix has been shown to protect against the two highest-risk subtypes of the Human Papilloma Virus, types 16 and 18, which between them are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancer cases. It may also provide protection against types 31, 45 and 52, the causes of a further 12% of cervical cancers.

The vaccine must still go through late-stage trials and faces competition from Merck's Gardasil, a similar vaccine that the company hopes to file for regulatory approval in the autumn.

Analysts Datamonitor said GSK's acquisition underlines the biotech sector's role in driving pharmaceutical innovation as GSK's own in-house R&D function struggles to produce candidates to replace its existing blockbusters.

"Cervarix is, however, only one of a number of promising elements in the purchase. GSK's portfolio will also be supplemented by other immunotherapeutic agents in Corixa's pipeline, such as its TLR4 agonists and antagonists which offer hope in areas such as COPD and cystic fibrosis," they added.

As well as Cervarix, Corixa's vaccine adjuvant MPL is also a key component in GSK Biologicals' recently-approved hepatitis B vaccine Fendrix, its candidate malaria vaccine, and a number of its investigational cancer immunotherapeutic vaccines.

GSK and Corixa have a history of working together on a number of vaccine adjuvant and antigen projects and the deal frees GSK from paying Corixa royalties under their earlier agreements or on future sales of vaccines containing MPL.

GSK's pharmaceuticals division has also previously collaborated with Corixa on the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment Bexxar, whose marketing and development rights GSK acquired in December last year.

The acquisition of Corixa, which is still subject to both approval from the company's shareholders and regulatory authorities, is expected to be finalised in the third quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, the FDA has approved Boosterix, GSK's new adolescent vaccine for whooping cough. There was previously no such vaccine approved in the US, despite reported cases of whooping cough in the country increasing by nearly 20 times since 1976 and reaching their highest level in more than 40 years in 2004.



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