BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Acambis plc is moving its Cambridge, UK, research and development activities to the U.S. and cutting 40 positions, following a strategic review in which it decided to drop three development programs.

The decision will leave the company with just 10 percent of its 280-person staff based in the UK, but Gordon Cameron, acting CEO, said in a conference call that there is no intention to move the domicile of Acambis to the U.S.

"We won't be listing on Nasdaq; we remain a UK company," he said. Currently, only 5 percent to 8 percent of shareholders in the vaccines company are U.S.-based.

Cameron said the aim of the strategic review was to prioritize the projects in Acambis' pipeline and use the financial strength of the company to deliver maximum value to shareholders by keeping full rights to products. As a result of its lucrative U.S. government smallpox vaccine contract, the company has £125 million (US$227.2 million) in reserves.

"We want to hang onto project rights as long as possible," Cameron said. "But even with a strong balance sheet you can't take everything through to market."

Research and development will be consolidated at the Acambis facility in Cambridge, Mass., though some clinical and regulatory functions, sales and marketing and business development activities will remain in the UK. The changes are "a logical step" in the evolution of Acambis into a fully integrated vaccines company, Cameron said.

Acambis now will concentrate its resources on the smallpox vaccines franchise, which consists of three projects: a vaccine against West Nile disease, a travel vaccines program consisting of four projects, and a vaccine for treating infections of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria Clostridium difficile.

"We will pursue these with our own capital; we have also got manufacturing capacity and the ability to sell these [products] ourselves in the U.S.," Cameron said.

The projects Acambis are dropping are a vaccine for travelers' diarrhea, currently in a series of Phase I trials to test each component of what was planned to be a pentavalent vaccine; a typhoid vaccine in Phase II; and a vaccine to treat Helicobacter pylori infections, being developed in a 50-50 joint venture with Aventis Pasteur, of Lyon, France.

Cameron said Acambis will have talks with partners to out-license or discontinue the projects, adding, "I would like to stress [the decision to drop the projects] is in no way related to efficacy in the clinic, but that we have reassessed the market opportunities."

Acambis also wants to renegotiate its September deal with Cangene Corp. in which the two agreed to jointly develop a West Nile virus immunoglobulin product.

Despite cutting 40 jobs and closing the UK R&D facility, Cameron said there will be no cost savings from the changes, due to capital being redeployed on the priority projects. There will be some reorganization costs, which will amount to less than £1 million.

Acambis also will be looking to in-license late-stage projects or marketed products that could be sold by the company's U.S. sales and marketing team.

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