BioWorld International Correspondent
LONDON - Ian Garland, the new CEO at Acambis plc, outlined his strategy, saying the focus on smallpox had forced the company to neglect other vaccines, leading it to be perceived as a biodefense specialist with a "thin pipeline of modest value and a limited cash position."
In fact, said Garland, there are two potential blockbusters in the pipeline, a vaccine and possible therapeutic against Clostridium difficile, which he said was, "my reason for joining Acambis," and a vaccine against Dengue fever.
But to deliver the value tied up in the assets, Acambis first needs to close the loop in its biodefense franchise by securing the warm-base manufacturing contract for the ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine it is negotiating currently with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Garland said he believes the CDC is committed to finalizing a contract. "The key uncertainty is timing. There is no deadline, so it is difficult to predict when the contract will be decided," he told an analysts' meeting called to discuss the company's six-month financial results.
In highlighting the need to build Acambis on the back of cash from the smallpox vaccine, Garland's position is no different from his predecessor, Gordon Cameron. But, Garland said, the difference will be the way in which that strategy is implemented.
The aim is to channel investment into the in-house programs, and to revitalize research and development to continue to feed the pipeline, with the objective of generating one investigational new drug application per year.
In fact, Acambis has delivered eight INDs in the past eight years. "But it has been distracted by smallpox," Garland said. That led the company to neglect other programs and not to target markets of the highest value, he added. He noted that the company's Japanese encephalitis and West Nile vaccines are of "modest value" compared to other indications. In the future there will be a greater commercial input into the selection of research programs.
"In other words, there will be integration from research to the development stage in the near term," Garland said. "Unlocking the value of Acambis is not rocket science. We will focus on a few things and do them well."
The company will have a policy of selectively partnering early stage products, while retaining others to build value. That will see Acambis looking for a partner for its flu vaccine if its gets positive results for the Phase I trial that is in progress currently, while taking the C. difficile product into Phase II in 2008 under its own steam.
Cambridge, Mass.-based Acambis has a partnership with Sanofi Pasteur for its Japanese encephalitis and Dengue fever vaccines. Last month Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the Sanofi-Aventis Group, of Paris, announced positive results from the Phase II trial in Dengue and said it plans to start Phase III trials in 2008.
Dengue fever is one of the most common tropical diseases and a growing concern. Worldwide, 50 million to 100 million people are affected, and cases are appearing in northern Australia and Texas. Sanofi Pasteur believes the potential market for a vaccine could be more that €1 billion per annum.