PARIS - Biovector Therapeutics has signed an agreement with Biomira Inc., of Edmonton, Canada, for the development of a vaccine against B cell lymphoma using the patient's own cancer cells. It will use the anti-idiotype, liposomal vaccine developed by Biomira, which focuses on the development of new therapies for cancer, and will be administered using the proprietary drug delivery technology of Biovector, based near Toulouse in southwestern France.

The agreement provides for Biovector to handle the worldwide marketing of the vaccine, and for Biomira to manufacture it for North America and Biovector for the rest of the world. Biovector is to pay Biomira $500,000 up front and make milestone payments totaling an estimated $15.5 million during the period up to marketing approval, as well as royalties.

Biomira will be responsible for the costs associated with Phase I trials, which will be financed under the terms of a cooperative research and development agreement it has already concluded with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the U.S. The costs of Phase II trials will mostly be borne by Biovector Therapeutics. Larry Kwak of the NCI, a world-renowned lymphoma specialist, will be in charge of the clinical trials.

Biomira's anti-idiotype vaccine is designed to be a complementary treatment to existing therapies for B cell lymphoma, which is a usually fatal form of cancer. It is currently treated with conventional chemotherapy and the use of monoclonal antibodies, but while such treatment can substantially reduce the size of primary tumors, it fails to eliminate residual tumors, which cause relapses and result in the patient dying within five to seven years. The therapeutic vaccine that Biomira is developing is designed to stimulate the patient's immune system so that it attacks and destroys the tumor cells that survive chemotherapy and the monoclonal antibodies.

The vaccine consists of a specific antigen of the patient's tumor obtained from his or her own cancerous cells, so it is effectively custom-made for each individual. The antigen is first isolated and then combined with the immuno-modulator interleukin-2 (IL-2) and lipids. The resulting vaccine is designed to induce an immune reaction against the patient's cancer cells through a double action: on the one hand, it targets the immune system through the liposomes and, on the other, it delivers the cancer antigens specific to the tumor in combination with a powerful immune system activator.

Biomira said the vaccine could be effective not only against lymphoma but also against other forms of B cell cancers, such as chronic lymphoid leukemia, multiple myeloma and other hematological cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, B cell lymphomas will be responsible for about 25,000 deaths in the U.S. this year, while 55,000 new cases will be recorded. As well as new sufferers, many patients in a remission phase could also benefit from this new therapy.

For Biovector, which earlier this month announced its intention to launch an initial public offering as soon as market conditions are right, the deal gives it the opportunity of getting a product on the market quickly. (See BioWorld International, Sept., 23, 1998, p. 1.)

“This move is a perfect example of our strategy of conquering niche markets,“ said the company's chairman, Emile Loria. “We think the combined technology and know-how of our two companies will generate revenues in the near future, and that will enable Biovector Therapeutics to attain financial independence.“ The company is already engaged in a vaccine development venture with another Canadian company, BioChem Vaccins, of Laval, Quebec. *