Sanofi $750m acquisition gives it edge in flu vacccine market

Sanofi is to buy the vaccines biotech Protein Sciences in a deal worth up to $750 million, after missing out on bigger acquisitions.

The French drugmaker tried to buy cancer drugs firm Medivation last year, but was outbid by Pfizer’s $14 billion deal, and also lost out on an acquisition of Switzerland’s Actelion after Johnson & Johnson swooped with a $30 billion offer.

While the Protein Sciences deal is much smaller –$650 million up front plus another $100 million in milestone payments – the acquisition is a good fit considering Sanofi’s strong presence in the vaccines market.

The biotech, based in Meriden, Connecticut, already has a licensed product, the Flublok quadrivalent flu vaccine, the only recombinant protein-based flu jab approved by the FDA.

David Loew, head of Sanofi Pasteur, the company’s vaccines division, said the acquisition allows the company to add a non-egg based vaccine to its portfolio.

While vaccines have been grown in eggs since the 1940s and the method is tried and tested, there are several drawbacks.

A need for large numbers of eggs, completely free of pathogens, in a short space of time means egg-based manufacturing is unlikely to produce enough vaccine in the event of a serious pandemic.

Egg-based vaccines may not elicit as strong an immune response as cell-culture derived antigens, and cannot be taken by patients with egg allergies.

There are also issues ensuring purity of egg vaccines and maintaining their sterility.

Protein Sciences CEO, Manon Cox, said the company is hoping to grow its business, particularly in the US.

AstraZeneca’s egg-based rival spray Flumist was not funded by US vaccination authorities last winter, although they did fund a trivalent version of Flublok.

He said: “As part of Sanofi Pasteur, we expect our Flublok influenza vaccine to benefit from Sanofi Pasteur’s expertise in the field of influenza vaccines.”

The acquisition has been unanimously approved by the board of directors of Protein Sciences and a majority of Protein Sciences shareholders. It is expected to close in the third quarter of 2017, subject to customary regulatory approvals.

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