West Coast Editor
Hard market times did not deter MedImmune Inc. from putting together a venture capital subsidiary that the company said will invest up to $100 million in other biotechnology firms.
"Just because the market has become more skeptical, doesn't mean there's not a lot of good work going on out there," said Lori Weiman, senior director of corporate communications for Gaithersburg, Md.-based MedImmune, adding that a biotechnology fund - especially now - is "fairly rare."
The subsidiary will focus mainly on areas of strategic interest to MedImmune, such as infectious disease, immunology and oncology, contributing up to $15 million per company, with an average investment of about $6 million. Candidates for the cash will be evaluated by a team from various MedImmune departments.
"We've always been looking for and have established collaborative relationships associated with product rights, but we believe there's a lot of good science out there and a lot of funds have dried up," Weiman said.
"The initial $100 million is meant to cover the first three years," she told BioWorld Today. "We won't invest more than $40 million in any given year, and in each opportunity we won't invest more than $15 million."
MedImmune is seeking "a higher rate of return for traditional investment, and at the same time, products for our pipeline," Weiman said. "We'll look at product-related deals, with some sort of rights assigned or licenses, and we'll do simply straight investment deals. We're equally interested in both of them."
MedImmune has 11 products in clinical testing and actively markets three drugs: Synagis (palivizumab) for the prevention of serious lower respiratory tract disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus in pediatric patients at high risk for the disease; Ethyol (amifostine), a selective cytoprotective agent used to reduce some toxicities associated with cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy; and CytoGam, an intravenous immune globulin indicated for prophylaxis against cytomegalovirus disease associated with the transplantation of a kidney, lung, liver, pancreas or heart.
The company still is working with the FDA to resolve issues related to the approval of FluMist, an intranasal cold-adapted trivalent vaccine containing two different influenza A strains and one influenza B strain. Earlier this month, the agency sent MedImmune a complete response letter concerning the biologics license application for FluMist, asking for more information but not requiring new trials. (See BioWorld Today, July 12, 2002.)
"We're hoping to respond within 30 to 45 days," Weiman said. "Getting the letter was what we expected; the issue has always been the speed with which we can respond," she added, noting that the company hopes to get approval by the next influenza season.
MedImmune's stock (NASDAQ:MEDI) closed Friday at $25.09, down 31 cents.