Takeda takes on Sanofi with $250M dengue buyout

In 1977, dengue fever experts predicted a vaccine could be ready in 10 years. That prediction proved wildly optimistic, leaving the 2.5 billion people at risk from dengue fever without protection. Sanofi ($SNY) is at the forefront of dengue vaccine research but now faces a challenger from Japan.

Takeda has bought its way into the sector through the acquisition of Inviragen for $35 million up front and potentially $215 million more in milestone payments. The deal comes months after the Colorado vaccine start up's lead candidate, DENVax, advanced into the next stage of a Phase II trial. Inviragen will show full results from the first stage--which enrolled 150 kids and adults--later this year, but was comfortable enough with preliminary safety data to advance the trial.

That success put Inviragen just behind Sanofi in the race to bring a dengue vaccine to market. A Phase II trial of Sanofi's candidate disappointed last September when it was found to be just 30% effective. The unexpectedly low number was a consequence of the vaccine failing to protect the 4,000 school children against one of the four strains of dengue. Despite the setback, Sanofi saw encouraging safety signs in the study and is continuing with a Phase III clinical trial with 30,000 participants across 10 countries. Data are expected next year.

If Sanofi stumbles, Inviragen could race ahead, giving Takeda a strong position in a market some analysts value at $1 billion. Merck is recruiting a Phase I trial of the vaccine it picked up from the then bankrupt Hawaii Biotech. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is a little further along, having run some Phase II tests. Sanofi and Inviragen are both developing live attenuated dengue vaccines, while Merck and GSK are working on a subunit and inactivated shot, respectively.

The dengue fever jab is Inviragen's big, near-term hope, but it also has vaccines for hand, foot and mouth, Japanese encephalitis and chikungunya in development. Takeda will develop these products alongside assets it acquired in the buyout of Ligocyte to create a vaccine unit last year.

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