Takeda tackling norovirus in bid to grow vaccine biz

When the norovirus establishes itself in an environment, the effect is devastating. The virus has shut hospital wards and ruined the holidays of people onboard at least 6 cruise liners this year alone. In the U.S., it causes 21 million illnesses and 800 deaths a year, with kids at particular risk.

A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in March found that norovirus has replaced rotavirus as the most common cause of acute infectious gastroenteritis in children in the U.S. The shift is a testament to the success of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck ($MRK) vaccines in stopping the spread of rotavirus. Development of a shot for norovirus is lagging behind, though, Bloomberg reports. The development lag is due to difficulties in growing norovirus outside of the body.

Vaccines are coming, though. Takeda is currently leading the race, having acquired a candidate in last year's takeover of LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals. A $60 million upfront payment bought Takeda the rights to a norovirus vaccine that is expected to report results from early-phase trials later in 2013. Barclays healthcare analyst Atsushi Seki predicts that the vaccine could generate annual sales of $400 million. Takeda committed to strengthening its vaccine business in January 2012 when it created a dedicated unit. It boosted the unit through the acquisitions of LigoCyte--for its norovirus vaccine and virus-like particle (VLP) technology--and Inviragen.

Upon arriving from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Takeda's vaccine head, Rajeev Venkayya, singled out takeover targets with products for unmet needs in infectious diseases. The norovirus vaccine in development at LigoCyte fit the bill. Japanese drugmaker UMN Pharma and Finland's University of Tampere are also developing vaccines, but Takeda is furthest along. GSK owned a stake in LigoCyte prior to its takeover--and Novartis ($NVS) has patents for norovirus VLPs--but Takeda seemingly faces little competition from the giants of the sector.

- here's the Bloomberg article