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Pfizer buys PowerMed

PowederMed succumbs to Pfizer's advances as the pharma giant establishes a foothold in the vaccines market

US pharma giant Pfizer has agreed to acquire PowderMed, a UK-based privately-owned firm specialising in DNA-based vaccines, for an undisclosed sum in an attempt to get a strong foothold in the increasingly lucrative vaccines market.

PowderMed has developed a unique and proprietary technology to deliver DNA directly to the cells of the body's immune system and is advancing a promising pipeline of proprietary vaccine candidates for influenza and chronic viral diseases.

The company's vaccine development programme is based on its Particle Epidermal Delivery (PMED) technology, a needle-free system that delivers DNA-coated microscopic gold particles into the skin, using pressurised helium gas, to trigger an immune response.

This technology has the potential to `leapfrog' both egg-based and cell-based vaccine technology currently being developed and further elevate the status of the once low-growth and low-margin vaccine sector that has become one of the fastest-growing in the pharmaceutical industry, as fears of a bird flu epidemic gather pace.

ìWhile the research is at an early stage, DNA-based vaccines may be the next major innovation against the threat of influenza and other chronic viral diseases,î said Dr John LaMattina, president, Pfizer Global Research and Development. ìPowderMed's technology may lead to new vaccines that are easier to use and store than current vaccines and may have the advantage of being more quickly adaptable to changing strains of influenza,î he added.

Pfizer's acquisition of PowderMed comes just weeks after GlaxoSmithKline predicted that global sales of vaccines would reach $33bn by 2015, tripling its 2005 value of $11bn.

Pfizer chief executive, Jeffrey Kindler, said that the acquisition had given the US firm the opportunity to enter the vaccines market and focus on broadening the scope of its healthcare solutions. ìThere is a critical public health need for new, more effective vaccines to prevent and treat infectious diseases,î he added.

PowderMed chief executive, Clive Dix, who believes that people have finally realised the huge potential of the vaccines market and see it as an effective way to treat infectious diseases, echoed his words.

Changing tack

For Pfizer, the PowderMed deal represents a departure from its usual approach to business development which, traditionally, has centred on acquiring or licensing products in mid- to late-stage development. However, with a rapid increase in competition in this arena even biotech firms are now striking deals to give them access to late-stage products. Last week, Gilead Sciences acquired Myogen for $2.5bn, gaining access to its late-stage experimental hypertension treatment.

PowderMed's most advanced candidate is only just entering phase II trials for seasonal flu. Also in its pipeline are vaccines for herpes simplex and chronic hepatitis, which are in phase I development, and a preclinical project in genital warts.

ìThe acquisition is an example of the fresh approach Pfizer is taking to business development,î said David Shedlarz, vice chairman at Pfizer. ìWith PowderMed's novel DNA technology and its portfolio of early-stage vaccine candidates, we are adding high-potential, externally sourced product candidates and technologies to our research and development portfolio,î he concluded.

30th September 2008

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