GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has taken control of Swiss company GlycoVaxyn in a $190m deal that bolsters its early vaccines pipeline.
GSK already owned a stake in GlycoVaxyn and had been working with the company since 2012 on the development of conjugate vaccines for bacterial infections.
Buying the remainder of the company gives it a portfolio of early-stage candidates including an Escherichia coli vaccine in phase I trials and – more importantly – exclusive rights to the Swiss company’s platform technology for making new vaccine candidates.
GlycoVaxyn has developed a technique that makes it possible to produce conjugate vaccines in bacterial cells using bio-engineering, rather than using chemical conjugation, which makes it possible to develop vaccines against a broader range of bacterial infections. GSK said it could also make it easier to manufacture the vaccines.
In addition to the E. coli vaccine, GlycoVaxyn is also preparing to start clinical trials in the US of a vaccine against the severe diarrhoeal disease shigellosis in the coming weeks, backed by the Wellcome Trust, and its pipeline also includes candidates for pneumonia, Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus aureus.
Moncef Slaoui, who heads GSK’s vaccines business, said the deal was an “exciting opportunity” to develop a new generation of vaccines for serious bacterial infections, “for many of which there are currently no effective vaccines.”
Bacterial infections constitute a serious health issue as their ability to resist antibiotic treatment has grown significantly in recent years, so the role of vaccination is becoming increasingly important.
GSK’s vaccines unit accounts for around 14% of the company’s sales but saw turnover dip a little last year on increased competition and the suspension of a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme in Japan that affected its Cervarix product.
The company has made vaccines a pillar of its strategy and last year agreed to take control of Novartis’ vaccine business (excluding flu vaccines) – including Bexsero for meningitis – in a swap for a portfolio of cancer drugs. That deal is due to close in the coming weeks and will consolidate GSK’s position as a leading vaccine player alongside Merck & Co and Sanofi.
Meanwhile, GSK has high hopes for its near-term vaccine pipeline, which include HZ/su for preventing shingles which generated positive phase III results last December, as well as a prophylactic vaccine for hepatitis C, a therapeutic vaccine for hepatitis B and a new tuberculosis shot.