Takeda joins frenzied Zika vaccine hunt in $312M deal with U.S. government

The global effort to create a Zika vaccine reeled in another major player on Thursday, when Takeda signed on with the U.S. government as part of a collaboration potentially worth $312 million.

For the first phase of the deal, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will allocate $19.8 million for Takeda to complete preclinical work and vaccine development through Phase I. All told, the deal's options through Phase III testing and FDA review amount to $312 million.

Execs at the Japanese pharma are also talking with officials in Japan about ways that government can get involved, according to a statement about the project.

Takeda is “deploying its world-class expertise and capabilities in vaccine development for emerging infectious diseases,” vaccines head Rajeev Venkayya said in the statement, adding that the Zika situation “demands swift action."

While it’s just now announcing its Zika work, Takeda has spent months testing a vaccine in preclinical stages, Venkayya told Reuters. The company hopes to enter clinical trials in the second half of next year.

Takeda’s candidate differs from other vaccines already in human trials, the news service said. It is not a DNA vaccine, like the prospect Inovio Pharmaceuticals is testing. And it contains inactivated Zika virus, rather than the more common attenuated-virus approach.

The Japanese pharma joins GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and a host of other biotech companies and organizations working to advance Zika vaccine prospects as the virus continues to spread. The explosive outbreak has so far reached 60 countries.

Last week, Pennsylvania’s Inovio launched its second human trial for its DNA vaccine GLS-5700 in Puerto Rico. The National Institutes of Health also entered clinical trials with its candidate in early August.

For its Zika response, the U.S. government has chosen big vaccine players as collaborators, first with Sanofi and GSK, and now Takeda. In early July, GSK said it would pair with the NIH on a project using self-amplifying mRNA, or SAM. That announcement came just one day after Sanofi signed on with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to work with a Zika purified inactivated virus (ZPIV) vaccine.

But inaction on Capitol Hill could hamper U.S. research efforts. Congress left for vacation in July without passing a Zika funding bill. In response, the HHS allocated $81 million to BARDA and NIH to keep the work going.

Takeda’s Zika vaccine R&D push follows efforts in other areas such as dengue and norovirus. The company has partnered with the Japanese government for pandemic influenza preparedness, and inked a deal to help the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in its polio eradication work.

The Zika work also follows the company’s decision last year to consolidate its vaccines unit around hubs in Boston; Zurich, Switzerland; and Japan. The new project will use a manufacturing site in Hikari, Japan, Venkayya said in the statement.

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