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Company’s $300M deal could be only the beginning

Positive results in 16 people participating in clinical trials is all it took for Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma Inc. to plunk down $300 million on Derry Township-based Immunomic Therapeutics Inc.

Positive results in 16 people participating in clinical trials is all it took for Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma Inc. to plunk down $300 million on Derry Township-based Immunomic Therapeutics Inc.

In one of the biggest biotechnology deals in Central Pennsylvania history, Astellas is buying a technology developed by Immunomic Therapeutics — also known as Immunomix — to make vaccines for human allergies.

Astellas will use the technology to develop what it hopes will be a vaccine for red cedar allergy, which affects about one-quarter of Japan’s population, and other human allergies.

“The pharmaceutical environment has changed quite a bit over the last few years,” Immunomix CEO Bill Hearl said. “Companies are aggressively pursuing earlier technologies. Certainly it’s a risk for them.”

Astellas, however, believed it was worth the risk after the test results. The eight-week test of 24 people — 16 with red cedar allergy, eight in a control group — yielded strong results. All 16 of the people who tested positive for the red cedar allergy on their skin before the trial were negative at the end of it.

Instead of waiting for Immunomix to enter into a second round of human trials, Astellas paid $300 million for the rights to all human allergy vaccines it can create using Immunomix’s DNA vaccine technology “LAMP-vax.” The technology is designed to vaccinate against allergies rather than treat them.

It may have been an early-stage buy for Astellas or any pharmaceutical company, but it also takes out the possibility of having to pay multiple times more than $300 million if further clinical tests continue to come out as positive as the first.

Tyler J. Marciniak, director of oncology communications and advocacy for Astellas US in Northbrook, Ill., said the LAMP-vax technology is “potentially groundbreaking” since it could begin to treat or prevent allergies without much, if any, risk to the patient.

“Astellas has a strategic goal to seek out new therapeutic opportunities, and we actively invest in new therapeutic areas and new technologies, in particular, regenerative medicine and next-generation vaccines,” he said. “We believe the financial terms for exclusive license are appropriate financial terms. So, not only does this transaction support our strategic goals and strengthen our pipeline in immunology as an innovative pharmaceutical company, but more importantly it presents another potential hope for allergy patients and their loved ones.”

Immunomix now won’t have to bear the cost or time involved in another round of human trials, despite selling a potentially billion-dollar technology.

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