Valneva picks up J&J's cholera vaccine--and some forthcoming competition

Cholera bacteria--Courtesy of CDC

Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Crucell is officially out of the cholera space, and France's Valneva is in. And that means it's Valneva that's about to inherit some hefty competition that's coming up through its rivals' pipelines.

On Monday, the European biotech inked a €45 million pact to acquire Crucell's Dukoral, picking up all assets, licenses and privileges related to the vaccine. Valneva will finance the buy with a combination of debt and equity, Reuters reports, with the companies expected to complete the deal in February.

The pickup will expand Valneva's marketed vaccine portfolio; currently, it boasts a number of vaccine development programs in areas like pandemic influenza, Clostridicum difficile and Lyme disease, but it only sells products that protect against Japanese encephalitis.

But Dukoral is set to face a couple of challengers in the not-too-distant future, and it's especially vulnerable in poor countries where its cost of $4 to $9 per dose is too pricey. The vaccine also requires large quantities of water for delivery, and it can only last a few weeks without refrigeration.

Hilleman Laboratories CEO Davinder Gill

Merck's ($MRK) Indian joint venture Hilleman Laboratories, however, is working on an alternative that'll give Dukoral--and Sanofi's ($SNY) Shanchol, which also requires refrigeration--a run for its money. Last summer, it teamed up with Sweden's Gotovax AB to develop an affordable, easy-to-administer dry powder vaccine that should eventually cost "significantly less than one U.S. dollar," Hilleman CEO Davinder Gill said at the time.

PaxVax, too, is working on a cholera vaccine, Vaxchora, though the California company plans to aim it at travelers heading to high-risk cholera countries. Last month, it said it planned to submit a BLA for the single-dose candidate in mid-2015 after the prospect succeeded in a 3,000-patient Phase III study.

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