LONDON — Cantab Pharmaceuticals plc has expanded its pipeline with the acquisition of two development-stage vaccine programs for the treatment of cocaine and nicotine addiction from ImmuLogic Pharmaceutical Corp.
Cantab is paying $9 million for the compounds, currently in Phase I study, through the issuance of just over 2.5 million shares priced at £2.08 (US$3.48), a slight premium to the Dec. 17 closing price of £2.02. In return, it will get the vaccines and US$6 million in cash to fund further development until the end of 2000, when it is expected they will be well advanced in Phase II.
Cantab, based in Cambridge, has also agreed to pay US$11 million in milestone payments up to the completion of Phase II trials. This may be in cash or in shares, at Cantab's discretion. The company also will make royalty payments on any sales.
On completion of the deal, ImmuLogic, based in Waltham, Mass., will hold almost 6 percent of Cantab's shares. It has undertaken not to sell any within six months; thereafter, it may sell up to 25 percent of the shares in each of the four quarters following.
Nicholas Hart, Cantab's financial director, told BioWorld International, "The beauty of getting cash along with the two programs is that it gives us the funding to take them well into Phase II [trials]. With no immediate impact on the balance sheet, we have been able to fulfill an undertaking to shareholders to build our product portfolio." On completion of the acquisition, Cantab will have seven products in development. Hart said there is also a possibility that the programs will be eligible for grant aid. The U.S. government is currently supporting the cocaine vaccine.
The two vaccines, designed for use in people who are trying to overcome addiction, consist of cocaine or nicotine linked to a carrier protein molecule, with alum as the adjuvant. They work in the same manner as traditional vaccines, generating drug-specific antibodies which bind to cocaine or nicotine in the bloodstream. This prevents the drug from reaching the brain, and hence neutralizes its psychoactive effect. It is understood that the vaccines will be administered only to people wanting to overcome addiction, as part of a behavioral therapy program.
The cocaine vaccine is currently in Phase I trials, which are being partly funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, more than 900,000 addicts seek treatment each year. Current treatment consists of behavioral therapy, usually in drug rehabilitation centers. However, the rate of relapse is high. The vaccine would not abolish the existing craving, but it would mop up cocaine before it crosses the blood-brain barrier, thus preventing users from getting a further "high," and fueling the addiction.
The nicotine vaccine, currently in preclinical studies, is expected to move into Phase I trials in 1999. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 17 million of the 50 million smokers in the U.S. try each year to give up the habit. About 10 percent of these seek help from a physician, and more than $350 million is spent on drugs such as nicotine patches. Patches remove the harmful effects of smoking, but fuel the nicotine addiction. *