Friday, September 16, 2011

Deals of the Week: Riding in Cars with Pharma

GlaxoSmithKline said yesterday that it had partnered with the McLaren Group, the British Formula One team owner and luxury sports car manufacturer. And sorry, sales reps, it's not for a company-car upgrade.

Instead GSK is after McLaren's expertise in engineering, technology, analytics, and strategy modelling, according to the Big Pharma's release. McLaren's own statement talks up the automotive guru's so-called Mission Control center, a base from which the company concocts its race strategy that will be replicated at GSK's London office to "drive faster decision-making around variables such as wholesaler stocking, inventory management, pricing, responding to retailer requests, competitor activity, and market and customer needs [for GSK's nutritionals business]. This facility will reflect a perfect synthesis of the McLaren/GSK collaboration."

Nowhere in either release did someone say: "VROOOOOOOOOOOM!"

The deal, initially scheduled to run through 2016, appears to combine management consulting strategies and potential technological innovations that could improve GSK's R&D processes. We'll have more to say next week once we've talked to someone in the driver's seat. Meanwhile, cue the Tracy Chapman, 'cause you know who else got a fast car?

VBI Vaccines/Epixis: Cambridge, Mass.-based immunotherapy developer VBI Vaccines agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to acquire its partner Epixis, a French developer of vaccines based on virus-like particle technology. The two initially collaborated on a cytomegalovirus vaccine following a June 2010 deal. The acquisition gives VBI outright ownership of the program, as well as Epixis’ platform and a hepatitis C program also under development. Backed with $40 million in Series A funding from Clarus Ventures, 5AM Ventures and ARCH Venture Partners that includes a recent $4 million extension, VBI has been engaged historically in the discovery of thermostable vaccines that do not require cold storage. Although a Series B round is in the works, VBI will also pursue non-dilutive partner revenue, likely beginning with an Asian partner for the HCV program acquired with Epixis. Either event could occur before VBI’s six-month supply of cash runs out, according to CEO Jeff Baxter. VBI intends to fund the CMV program through Phase I at minimum before seeking a partner, Baxter added. Epixis’ entire staff of six will continue with VBI, with four accepting full-time positions and two becoming senior advisors. The deal was completed six weeks ago, but its announcement was delayed until Epixis published a key research paper on hepatitis C virus in trade journal Science Translational Medicine. – Paul Bonanos

Vanderbilt University/Seaside Therapeutics: Researchers at Vanderbilt’s Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery achieved a milestone in their work with Seaside Therapeutics to discover and develop a drug for fragile X syndrome, the most common genetic cause of autism. Seaside and VCNDD signed a three-year, $4.5 million research agreement in 2008 to develop metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 5 (mGluR5) modulators for fragile X based on discovery work done by the university’s researchers. On Sept. 15, VCNDD announced that drug-like mGluR5 molecules are in final preclinical studies, after which they will be turned over to Seaside for clinical development, possibly to begin in 2012. Just one example of the increasing alliances between biopharmaceutical companies and academia, the Seaside/VCNDD arrangement was expanded in 2010 to work on developing and optimizing small-molecule muscarinic acetylcholine subtype 1 (M1) antagonists for fragile X, autism and other brain development disorders. The two groups currently are collaborating on clinical trials to test STX209 (arbaclofen) in those indications. VCNDD also has ongoing partnerships with Johnson & Johnson in schizophrenia and with the Michael J. Fox Foundation in Parkinson’s disease. – Joseph Haas

Cellectis/Cellartis: With such similar names, these two European research-tool companies, with activities in genome engineering and stem cells respectively, were probably already getting each other's mail. Perhaps all those "oh that's not us, you mean ..." interactions were bound to lead to something? But seriously, one of the drivers of the 30 million ($41.5 million) acquisition of the Swedish Cellartis by the French Cellectis, announced Sept. 15, seems to be France's desire to have a global leader in stem cell technologies in its backyard. The state strategic industry investment fund, or FSI, is bankrolling the acquisition with help from a wealthy French industrialist, Pierre Bastid. Together they're making a 50 million investment in Cellectis. Cellartis's attractions include its ability to produce hepatocytes and cardiomyocytes from human embryonic stems cells, used by pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca for predictive toxicology studies, and a very early-stage research collaboration with Novo Nordisk on the development of a stem cell approach to the treatment of diabetes. Cellartis's investors are to receive 16.4 million in cash and 1.93 million Cellectis shares for the company, and the deal is expected to close at the end of October. John Davis

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