LONDON — Cantab Pharmaceuticals plc made its first foray into the Far East, forming a research collaboration with Japan's leading vaccine manufacturer, Kaketsuken, for the development of Cantab's DISC VZV, a vaccine for chicken pox and shingles.

After an initial feasibility and work program to be completed at Kaketsuken, of Kumamoto, the Japanese company will fully fund DISC VZV development for two years at Cantab's laboratories in Cambridge, U.K. Kaketsuken is part of the Chemo Sero Therapeutic Research Institute.

If the research is successful, the two intend to extend the collaboration into a development and marketing deal. Kaketsuken will have an option to license all product rights in Japan and certain other parts of Asia, with Cantab retaining marketing and sublicensing rights for the rest of the world. No financial details were given.

Jurek Sikorski, CEO of Cantab, told BioWorld International, "This is a great deal for us. Kaketsuken will pay for the work, and subject to the completion of early milestones we will get royalties. It is also significant as a further endorsement of our DISC technology."

Sikorski said the two companies have a long-standing relationship, which has included in-depth contacts among scientists. Kaketsuken has a particular interest in the chicken pox vaccine because it believes this would be a significant product. The current chicken pox vaccine is only about 60 percent effective.

The Japanese company is also interested in the DISC technology, and Sikorski said it was possible the two would work together on other DISC products if this collaboration is successful.

Chicken pox is highly infectious, affecting 95 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. Although the spots are itchy and scarring may result, it is generally only considered a serious threat to immunocompromised and other high-risk children. However, following initial infection, the virus may lie dormant in the nervous system and reemerge in later life as shingles, a painful disease for which there is no established therapy.

The project is at the feasibility stage and Sikorski said it will be two years before a product candidate is ready for clinical trials. However, experience gained with Cantab's other DISC products will enable the partners to accelerate the development work.

DISC viruses are disabled through the deletion of a single gene. Although this gives them the safety profile of a conventionally inactivated virus, they have the same ability as a live attenuated virus to stimulate a broad and long-lasting immune response.

Cantab's lead vaccine, DISC HSV for the treatment of genital herpes, is currently in Phase I trials in a collaboration with Glaxo Wellcome plc, of London, and will enter Phase II studies this year. The company also has a deal with Pfizer Animal Health Care for veterinary applications of the technology.