LONDON GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) stepped its drive to acquire more biotech assets on Thursday by snapping up rights to an Austrian biotech company's experimental therapeutic vaccines against Alzheimer's disease.
The world's second biggest drugmaker could end up paying 430 million euros ($553 million) to Vienna-based Affiris if its early-stage vaccines are a commercial success, although the upfront payment is only 22.5 million euros.
The deal is relatively small for Glaxo but ties in with its stated aim of increasing outside acquisitions of products and businesses.
Chief Executive Andrew Witty said on Wednesday he was hunting for acquisition bargains thrown up by the credit crunch -- including opportunities in biotech -- prompting the group to scale back share repurchases to exploit investment opportunities.
As part of the agreement, Glaxo will get exclusive rights to two Affiris vaccines currently in Phase I clinical studies. It also has an option to develop and commercialise other vaccine candidates in preclinical development.
Affiris's therapeutic Alzheimer's vaccines are being developed to fight deposits in the brain called beta-amyloid plaques, which have been linked to the degenerative brain condition.
The privately held Austrian company says it has a technology which allows the design of proteins with very specific binding characteristics, making them well suited for vaccines against "rogue' human proteins such as beta-amyloid.
Given the world's aging population and the unmet need for an effective treatment, new medicines for Alzheimer's are seen as one of the big untapped opportunities for the pharmaceuticals industry.
But the field is littered with past failures, making Alzheimer's a high-risk area for research.
Setbacks this year include the failure of Flurizan in a pivotal clinical test, dealing a blow to its backers Myriad Genetics (MYGN.O) and Lundbeck (LUN.CO), and weaker-than-hoped-for results in a mid-stage study of bapineuzumab from Elan ELN.I and Wyeth WYE.N.
The alliance with Affiris will be handled by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals -- Glaxo's vaccines division -- which hopes to add its own expertise in vaccine adjuvants, or additives, to the Affiris technology.
GSK Biologicals is also working on experimental therapeutic vaccines against cancer. While conventional vaccines work by preventing infection, therapeutic vaccines are designed to help patients who already have a disease.