GSK Inks Deal with Non-Profit to Develop AIDS Vaccine

July 6, 2005

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-07-06-2005, Volume 0, Issue 1

The trend of public/private partnerships to combat diseases of the developing world continues with collaboration between GSK and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. We examine the details of the deal, the science GSK plans to use and the future of this trend.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative thinks that partnerships joining the public and private sectors are crucial to developing a vaccine to prevent AIDS, a belief that was given strength June 21 when the organization announced its first collaboration agreement with a major pharma company, GlaxoSmithKlein Biologicals.

    “Public/private partnerships can move important therapeutic and preventative needs forward,” said GSK spokeswoman Gail Renegar.

    The partnership is part of a trend that had its seed in 2001 when people began discussing novel ways novel ways to address diseases of the developing world, including tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, and schistosomiasis, according to Christopher Milne, assistant director of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. But public/private partnerships have entered the market much more quickly than the other ideas presented at the time, Milne said.

    Prior to 2001, very few large companies were invested in research for preventing or fighting diseases of the developing world because there was little promise of financial gain, Milne said. But public/private partnerships will allow pharma companies to “have it both ways,” he continued. Companies can avoid devoting too many resources to these projects while still “keeping their hand in” research areas that could yield important results if they come to fruition. He also noted that these partnerships are good for boosting a pharma company’s public image.

The Partnership’s Goals:

This is not the first arrangment of this type for GSK, which is also involved in studying tuberculosis with private organizations. Renegar described public/private partnerships as a “viable mechanism to address unmet needs, particularly in developing countries.” She credited IAVI with “pushing us forward in the international community.”

    Emilio Emini, senior vice president and chief of vaccine development for IAVI, said his organization has previously collaborated with biotechs, which the company hopes to continue doing.  But he also expressed interest in future partnerships with pharma companies and academic institutions that have novel tools for eliciting specific immune responses or developing vaccines.

    “One of our goals is to establish collaborations with organizations that have interesting technology that can be applied to prophylactic vaccines,” he said. “The reality is, when more technology is applied to the problem the likelihood of a solution goes up.”

    Emini expressed hope that multiple partnerships will result in a “portfolio of approaches that have the potential to eventually be combined as needed.”

The Science Driving the Deal:

The partnership will focus on studying delivery vectors from non-human primates, which have been altered to be non-infectious. The adenovirus vectors are similar to those that cause colds in humans, Renegar said. The vectors are designed to deliver immunogens of interest, HIV-specific genes that express HIV-specific proteins, according to Emini.

    Renegar said GSK is hoping that the vector is potent and will elicit a strong immune response. Because the vector is from non-human sources, it is unlikely that people will have a preexisting immunity to it, Emini stated.

    The University of Pennsylvania, which developed the technology, licensed its non-infectious adenovirus tool exclusively to GSK, which will now share it with IAVI.

    According to a statement by Jean Stephenne, president and general manager of GSK Biologicals, the adenovirus vector is one of three approaches it is using to research AIDS vaccine development. Renegar said the company might be willing to consider expanding the collaboration to include the other two avenues in the future.

    GSK’s U.S.-listed stock rose 1.6 percent to a closing price of $50 on the day of the announcement.