UPDATED: Astellas inks deal to create a portfolio of vaccine-focused biotechs

Over the past few years, Astellas Pharma has strengthened its vaccine business by codeveloping a flu vaccine, licensing a cytomegalovirus candidate and introducing a new product in Japan. This week, Astellas once again looked beyond its walls to grow the unit, inking an alliance to build a portfolio of biotechs developing infectious disease vaccines.

The partnership sees Astellas team up with ClearPath, a Maryland-based company that helps develop early-stage drugs. Together, the companies plan to create a portfolio of biotechs to develop vaccine assets for Astellas but so far have only set up one such business--RSV Corporation. The company has licensed a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine candidate from Swiss biotech Mymetics in a deal worth up to $82 million in upfront and post-proof-of-concept milestone payments.

Astellas has committed to funding the vaccine until completion of the Phase IIb proof-of-concept trial. Once the vaccine has reached this stage, Astellas will reevaluate the project and may exercise its exclusive right to acquire RSV Corp. or further develop and commercialize the candidate. In an attempt to reach this point quickly and affordably, Astellas has assembled a mix of third-party support. Mymetics will continue to help with preclinical work and former Wyeth vaccine chief Dr. George Siber will lead RSV's development team.

ClearPath will also play an active role in development. The company is made up of former executives from CROs, biopharma businesses, regulators and funding groups who now collectively help firms advance early-stage candidates to proof-of-concept. "Together we are harnessing our collective resources to accelerate development of this promising, early-stage asset and will replicate this scalable, outcome-driven model across future portfolio companies," ClearPath Chairman Chuck Finn said in a press release.

Astellas' embrace of the ClearPath model comes 8 months after it revealed plans to shake up its R&D operation. The rejig saw Astellas shutter facilities and outline a different strategy for "unique and challenging" early-stage candidates. The approach--called the "Ex. (External/Expedite/Exploratory) Track"--was designed to flexibly use internal and external resources to more efficiently bring drugs to proof-of-concept. RSV looks like an early example of this model.

- here's the press release
- look back at the restructuring plan

Editor's Note: An early version of this story incorrectly said ClearPath is based in Switzerland. The company is actually based in Maryland.