There's no time this week for snark or clever themes, since the IVB team is also busy pulling together the October issues of START-UP and IN VIVO. (You can rail all you want in the comments section about our slacker attitude.) So we'll get straight to what you all really want: write-ups of the week's most interesting M&A and licensing deals. Herewith your regular analysis...
After deciding to get into ophthalmology, Viehbacher and company reportedly scouted out nearly 100 biotechs, many of which were working on vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitor programs. But it selected Fovea, which is not working in VEGF at all. In addition to continuing its own work, Fovea, whose top programs are in-licensed, will be tasked with growing the ophthalmology unit through potential asset acquisitions. It also may get involved with the gene therapy-based ophthalmology programs Sanofi licensed from Oxford BioMedica this past April--Melanie Senior.
Johnson & Johnson/Crucell: Taking a plunge into vaccines, J&J will collaborate with Dutch biotech Crucell to develop and commercialize flu-mAB, a monoclonal antibody intended to protect against multiple strains of influenza. Under the deal announced Sept. 28, J&J purchased 14.6 million newly issued shares of Crucell for €301.8 million ($441.8 million), giving the pharma an 18 percent stake in Crucell. (Have you noticed J&J seems to be one of the few companies embracing the partial minority stake ownership model? It's deal with Elan also involved in 18% solution.) With the “swine” H1N1 pandemic strain re-emerging for the Northern Hemisphere’s fall flu season, a combination of public fear, government funding and increased private investment have re-invigorated the influenza market. The U.S. government recently approved and order batches of four H1N1 vaccines, with first doses due this month. J&J’s choice of universal flu vaccine as its first entry into the vaccine arena is viewed as a longer-term play. Crucell, which already manufactures and sells vaccines for a variety of diseases, will retain commercial rights to a majority of European markets for any product resulting from the collaboration. While only preclinical work has been done on flu-mAB so far, Phase IIa proof-of-concept trials are expected to begin in 2010.--Carlene Olsen
Merck/CSL: Merck waited a while to get back into vaccines but on Sept. 28 signed a six-year deal to market Australian firm CSL’s Afluria in the U.S. starting next year. Approved by FDA in 2007 for immunization of adults against virus subtypes A and B, Afluria is a non-adjuvanted trivalent seasonal flu vaccine sold in two different formulations – thiomersal-free pre-filled syringes and multi-dose vials. Previously partnered on the human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil since 1995, neither Merck nor CSL disclosed the deal’s financial terms. Under the transaction, CSL Biotherapies, a subsidiary of CSL Limited, will supply Afluria to Merck, which will be responsible for all aspects of U.S. commercialization. Marketed in 27 countries, Afluria produced sales totaling $108 million during CSL’s most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30. CSL is one of four firms approved by the U.S. government to provide vaccine for H1N1 influenza this year, and through August it also had sold nearly 4 million doses of standard flu vaccine for this season in the U.S. market.--Emily Hayes