By Mary Welch

BioChem Pharma Inc. and the Canadian government entered into a six-year, $C600 million (US$413.2 million) enterprise to develop recombinant-protein vaccines.

The Technology Partnership Canada has pledged C$80 million toward the project with the Laval, Quebec-based company anteing up the remaining C$520 million. The project is expected to generate about 450 jobs in Canada, as well as in BioChem Pharma¿s development facility outside of Boston. The company now has more than 200 people employed in its vaccines division.

¿This is a happy day for us,¿ said Michele Roy, BioChem Pharma¿s director of corporate communications. ¿This is a new kind of partnership, and a new direction for us. We have been withdrawing from the diagnostics sector to focus on vaccines and therapeutics. We¿re going from a royalty-based company to doing our own development. This allows us to share the risk and the upside.¿

BioChem¿s vaccine portfolio is based on recombinant-protein technology. The most advanced candidate, a meningococcal vaccine, recently entered Phase I trials. The vaccine is designed to protect against infection by Neisseria meningitidis, the second most prevalent of the three common bacterial causes of meningitis. This bacteria causes some 500,000 cases of meningitis yearly, and results in some 50,000 deaths worldwide.

The second vaccine is for Group B Streptococcus, a neonatal infection transmitted at birth and considered the single greatest cause of infant mortality in the Western world. This vaccine is in the preclinical stage.

The third most developed vaccine is for Streptococcus pneumoniae, from which more than 1.3 million children under the age of 5 die each year.

¿These three diseases have been identified by the WHO [World Health Organization] as being very important diseases that need vaccines,¿ Roy said. ¿This project has a very international scope and is based on a world strategy.¿

BioChem Pharma¿s stock (NASDAQ:BCHE) closed Monday at $22, down 12.5 cents.