Amgen Beefs Up Cancer Vaccine Pipeline With BioVex Acquisition

Jan.28.11 | About: Amgen Inc. (AMGN)

By Michael Fitzhugh

Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) will pay as much as $1 billion to acquire BioVex, the creator of a late-stage cancer vaccine that has shown encouraging results in treating solid tumors.

BioVex is already running late-stage pivotal trials to evaluate use of the experimental vaccine, called OncoVex, for the treatment of melanoma and head and neck cancer. If successful, the vaccine could be sold within “the next few years” says Roger Perlmutter, Amgen’s head of research and development.

About 650,000 people are diagnosed with squamous cell head and neck cancer each year worldwide, and around 350,000 die from the disease annually, according to BioVex. Melanoma was expected to kill about 8,700 people in the United States during 2010, according to the American Cancer Society.

Successful therapeutic cancer vaccines have proven difficult to develop, but have gained new attention following the approval of Dendreon's (NASDAQ:DNDN) Provenge for the treatment of men with advanced prostate cancer. Such vaccines enlist the body's own immune defenses to selectively destroy cancer cells.

OncoVex has already demonstrated encouraging anti-tumor activity in clinical studies for the treatment of melanoma and head and neck cancer, says Amgen’s Perlmutter.

“Amgen is ideally positioned to leverage the potential of OncoVEX in multiple solid tumor indications given their impressive oncology franchise and expertise in biologics manufacturing and development,” says BioVex CEO Philip Astley-Sparke.

BioVex will receive $425 million in cash at the deal’s close and up to $575 million in additional payments upon the achievement of certain regulatory and sales milestones.

The Woburn, Massachusetts company is also developing ImmunoVex, an early-stage vaccine for genital herpes.