Sanofi inks pact with Immune Design to boost herpes vax effort

Sanofi ($SNY) may be trailing in the sprint toward a herpes vaccine, but a new collaboration may give it the boost it needs to stay in the game.

In hopes of yielding a more promising candidate, the company's vaccine unit, Sanofi Pasteur, has tapped Seattle biotech Immune Design ($IMDZ) to help it develop a therapeutic shot for genital herpes.

Up against Massachusetts biotechs Genocea Biosciences ($GNCA) and Agenus ($AGEN) and San Diego's Vical ($VICL), which are all trialing herpes jabs of their own, Sanofi Pasteur will contribute its clinical-stage vaccine candidate HSV-529 and Immune Design will offer up its preclinical trivalent vaccine G103. The collaboration will test various combinations of agents in an effort to find the most effective immune therapy for patients.

Specifically, Sanofi is eyeing Immune Design's GLAAS technology, designed to activate dendritic cells and galvanize an immune response.

Sanofi and the National Institutes of Health are collaborating on a Phase I trial of HSV-529, testing it in adults with and without herpes. The company wants to eventually use the product as a preventive measure to halt the spread of the virus, which affects about one out of every 6 people aged 14 to 49 years old in the U.S.

No vaccine for herpes exists, despite several several previous Big Pharma forays into the field. Novartis ($NVS), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck ($MRK) have all tried their luck at a herpes shot with disappointing results.

The standard of care remains antivirals like GlaxoSmithKline's Valtrex, but these drugs need to be taken frequently to limit transmission by skin-to-skin contact.

Immune Design's GLAAS was the subject of another deal with Sanofi earlier this year, when the French pharma giant licensed the drug discovery platform to develop new treatments for food allergies.

- read the Sanofi press release (PDF)

Special Report: Top 5 Vaccine Companies by Revenue - 2012 - Sanofi