Abivax seeks cash to bring Cuban-discovered HepB vaccine to the world

Abivax CEO Dr. Hartmut Ehrlich

Abivax, an emissary of Cuba's well-regarded but closed-off biotech sector, is raising money to fund clinical trials of a hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine was discovered by Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and is now on the cusp of making the leap from the island to the wider world.

Paris, France-based Abivax is running a Phase IIb/III trial of the therapeutic vaccine ABX203 in Asia Pacific, data from which could help the company fulfill its ambition to snag a partner to bring the product to market in Europe. The vaccine is made up of Hbs and Hbc antigens, a mix Abivax thinks can trigger sustained control of the viral load in a shorter treatment period than is possible with the standard of care. Abivax is committing cash to the testing of the idea--the hepatitis B trial is contributing to an anticipated $55 million outlay in 2015 and 2016--and is seeking more in an IPO.

The size of the IPO on the Paris stock exchange is yet to be determined, as is the level of interest among investors. Abivax thinks its close ties to Cuba's biotech sector make it an attractive asset, though, particularly at a time when relations between the island and the U.S. are improving. As it stands, Cuban products cannot be sold in the U.S. but the odds of this trade embargo being lifted have improved in recent years. If that happens, Abivax would be interested in bagging the right to commercialize ABX203 in the U.S., CEO Hartmut Ehrlich told the Financial Times.

While the opening up of the world's biggest healthcare market would represent a potential boon to Abivax, it would also open the door to the licensing of Cuban-discovered drugs and vaccines by U.S. companies. Ehrlich thinks such a threat to Abivax's privileged position in Cuba would be slow to materialize. "It takes time to build trust with our partners in Cuba and we believe we have achieved that trust. We have found the Cubans to be very collaborative. For us it has been a real pleasure to work with them," Ehrlich said.

- read the FT article (sub. req.)
- here's FierceBiotech's take