Takeda Pharmaceutical is to buy biopharma LigoCyte for $60 million in cash, plus future milestone-dependent payments. LigoCyte is developing a pipeline of virus-like particle (VLP)-based vaccines for gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. The firm’s pipeline is headed by a norovirus vaccine candidate that is in Phase I/II clinical development, and preclinical-stage candidates against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), pandemic and seasonal influenza, and rotavirus.
Takeda says the acquisition will represent a major step in the expansion of its vaccines business, development pipeline, and R&D capabilities. For the foreseeable future the firm plans to continue operating LigoCyte at the latter’s site in Bozeman, Montana, and retain its management team and employees. “Norovirus is the most common cause of outbreaks of gastroenteritis and foodborne illness in the U.S., and is responsible for 200,000 deaths each year, most of them in developing countries,” notes Rajeeve Venkayya, M.D., executive vp of Takeda’s vaccine business division. “With the only norovirus vaccine in clinical trials today, Takeda will be in a position to change this picture.”
Ligocyte is exploiting its VLP vaccine technology to develop vaccines against both enveloped and nonenveloped viruses. For nonenveloped viruses, including norovirius, the capsid protein of the virus is expressed in cell culture where it spontaneously forms into VLPs that incorporate multiple copies of the protein. The strategy for enveloped viruses such as flu and RSV harnesses the retroviral Gag protein as the scaffold for multiple VLP vaccine candidates.
The firm’s lead norovirus vaccine is being developed both as a liquid for intramuscular injection, and also as a dry-powder, nasally delivered formulation. Promising data from a Phase I/II study were published in December 2011, and demonstrated that the vaccine prevented gastroenteritis developing in nearly 70% of participants who were challenged with live norovirus, and reduced the severity of illness in those that did develop gastrointestinal symptoms.