One of the most significant deals to take place in the vaccine industry in the last ten years was signed late last night between vaccine heavyweight Novartis and biotech firm Intercell.
Through the agreement, Novartis gains access to over ten vaccine projects currently making up Intercell's portfolio, as well as exclusive access to Intercell's super-adjuvant IC31 to develop improved flu vaccines. Intercell will receive an upfront payment of €270m (€120m in licence an option fees and €150 cash contribution through the purchase of 4.8 million shares), with potential milestone and royalty payments leading to multi-billion Euro revenues according to the Austrian firm. Not only is this Intercell's biggest deal to date, but the two companies claim it is a major landmark in the vaccine industry: "This is the most significant deal between two independent companies in the vaccine industry in the last decade," Intercell chief financial officer Werner Lanthaler told in-PharmaTechnologist.com. The partnership focuses on the development of bacterial vaccine products derived from Intercell's Antigen Identification Programme (AIP), with Novartis gaining opt-in rights to any existing unpartnered vaccine projects and access to all future vaccine candidates discovered by Intercell during the long-term collaboration. The technology platform focuses on the identification of novel antigens from a variety of pathogens, specifically concentrating on those antigens thought to induce the strongest immune response in humans. The approach compliments Novartis' own Reverse Vaccinology system, which selects vaccine candidates based on highly conserved antigen sequences. Among the various projects now available to Novartis are Intercell's IC43 vaccine candidate for the treatment of hospital-acquired pseudomonas infections (currently in Phase II), and pre-clinical vaccine IC47 for use against pneumonia infections in the elderly and infants. One of the other projects likely to be near the top of the two companies' target list is the development of an improved influenza vaccine. Novartis has gained exclusive access to Intercell's IC31 adjuvant for the development of flu vaccines, and also has non-exclusive rights to use the adjuvant in the development of vaccines in other disease areas. Only a few weeks ago Intercell announced that an IC31-boosted flu vaccine would be put to the test in Phase I tests, helping to improve the immune response by triggering a response in T-cells as well as B-cells. Under the terms of the agreement, Intercell is eligible to receive milestone of up to €100m during the development period of IC31 in novel flu vaccines, as well as double digit royalty payments tied to sales. For other vaccines making use of the IC31 adjuvant in selected areas, Intercell will receive €30-€60m during the development phase and up to high single-digit royalties tied to sales performance for each product. As well as this, the contract between the two companies also includes a co-development and profit-sharing arrangement to bring together the two firms' Hepatitis C vaccine programmes, with the intention of establishing solid leadership in the field. According to the terms of the overall agreement, Intercell has responsibility for all costs through to the end of Phase II clinical trials, at which point Novartis will take over for Phase III development, manufacturing and commercialisation for any projects it chooses to continue. Intercell already partners with several big names in the pharma industry, including Wyeth, Sanofi Pasteur and Merck & Co., but the company has stressed that this new agreement does not impact on any existing collaborations.
The deal has left Intercell with a comfortable cash cushion of over €300m, according to Lanthaler, as well as ensuring the company remains independent - a deliberate move which the firm believes will ultimately create more value for its shareholders.