Wellcome Trust-funded vaccines company acquired by GSK

GlycoVaxyn, a Swiss-based biopharmaceutical company, which has received funding from the Wellcome Trust Innovations division, has been acquired by global pharma firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for $190 million (approximately £124 million).

GlycoVaxyn, a spin off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), has developed an innovative technology that enables the cost-effective manufacture of bioconjugate vaccines.

Bioconjugate vaccines are particularly effective against bacterial infections. They are made by joining sugar molecules called polysaccharides, found in the outer coating of many harmful bacteria, and proteins that together induce a more powerful immune response. GlycoVaxyn’s technology allows these conjugates to be mass-produced in live E. coli cells that have been genetically engineered.

GlycoVaxyn was awarded CHF5.1 million by the Trust in 2012 to develop such a vaccine against the Shigella bacterium. Shigella is one of the main causes of a diarrhoeal disease that leads to severe illness and death among young children in low-income countries. There is currently no vaccine against Shigella on the market and resistance of this infection to antibiotic treatments is growing.

A phase I study of GlycoVaxyn’s candidate Shigella vaccine, funded by the Wellcome Trust award, is due to start in the first quarter of 2015.

Dr Georgios Trichas, from the Innovations division at the Wellcome Trust, said: "This is a fantastic outcome for GlycoVaxyn and the Wellcome Trust-funded project. We look forward to working with both companies in future to establish the safety and efficacy of the candidate Shigella vaccine in this area of urgent unmet medical need."

Prior to the acquisition, GSK was a shareholder in GlycoVaxyn and the two have collaborated since 2012 on research using the latter’s innovative biological conjugation platform technology.

With this transaction, GSK has now purchased all shares in the company, valuing it at US$212 million (approximately £139 million). As well as Wellcome Trust funding, Glycovaxyn was also supported previously by investments from life science venture capital firms including Sofinnova Partners, Index Ventures and Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners.