Johnson & Johnson buys stake in Dutch biotech firm
September 29, 2009
The Associated Press reports that Johnson & Johnson is jumping into the increasingly hot vaccine business by taking an 18 percent stake in Dutch biotechnology company Crucell NV and focusing more on preventive medicine. Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson is spending $440 million for new shares of Crucell. The deal focuses initially on developing a universal vaccine or treatment against influenza from Crucell''s genetically engineered antibody technology. A universal flu vaccine -- one that would work against all or most strains rather than having to be reformulated every flu season -- has been an elusive goal some other pharmaceutical companies have abandoned. Amid the swine flu pandemic, it has suddenly become a bit of a Holy Grail. Longer-term, Crucell and Johnson & Johnson will work on developing vaccines and possibly treatments based on antibodies against additional diseases. The companies aren''t saying what conditions they would target, but the compounds primarily would fight infectious diseases. J&J already has several medicines or drugs in testing for bacterial and viral infections, including tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis C. Initially, the collaboration would focus on a vaccine that could block seasonal flu and the current swine flu pandemic strain, as well as bird flu. In August, Leiden, Netherlands-based Crucell was awarded grants worth up to $69 million by the U.S. government to develop its range of monoclonal antibodies for influenza, which Crucell says have shown early promise in fighting "a wide range" of seasonal and pandemic flu viruses. The company claims the antibodies can even fight flu strains resistant to Tamiflu -- the medicine currently most often used to slow their progression. Crucell CEO Ronald Brus said his company was overwhelmed with interest after it published results in Science magazine showing the treatment''s potential, but Johnson & Johnson offered a deal that preserved a fair share of future profits for Crucell. In addition, he said Crucell didn''t want to partner with any of the top five players in the vaccine market because they make large amounts of money from selling annual flu vaccines and so would have conflicting interests. Under the deal, Crucell will retain the right to market products the companies develop jointly in Europe, while Johnson & Johnson will market them in the rest of the world. The agreement with Johnson & Johnson specifies that the U.S. company won''t buy any more of Crucell''s shares for three years without Crucell''s consent.