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A shot in the arm -- Oxford BioMedica’s acquisition of Oxxon boosts vaccine pipeline
OXFORD, UK—In a transaction valued at £16 million, Oxford BioMedica, a gene therapy company, announced in mid-March its acquisition of Oxxon Therapeutics Ltd. Oxxon, a private biotech company, held assets including a Phase II melanoma vaccine, the proprietary Hi-8 PrimeBoost immunotherapy platform, and approximately £3 million cash.
John Berriman, president and executive deputy chairman of Oxxon Therapeutics Holdings, says he sought out an acquisition to provide Oxxon shareholders with value. "My view was that, given the cost of capital for a standalone company with an early Phase II product, the terms we were going to get if we did a private financing were going to be tough, and that we were too early to go public."
The vaccine world is small, says Berriman, and Oxxon's PrimeBoost, which uses disease-specific antigens and a recombinant viral vector, modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA), to stimulate and boost the immune system, fits nicely with Oxford BioMedica's technology because it incorporates the same vector. "There was no overlap," says Berriman, "It was very complementary. So from that point of view, there's very, very strong synergy…And the fact that they're about 200 yards from our front door, that doesn't harm us, either."
Even after a global search for a purchaser, Berriman settled on a neighbor in the Oxford Science Park. The founders of Oxxon and Oxford BioMedica have known each other for years after spinning companies out of Oxford University. Oxford BioMedica is a particularly good home for Oxxon's technology, says Berriman, because of common roots. "Naturally, as a biotech startup company, you tend to be doing things differently from Big Pharma because if you were doing it the same, you wouldn't have any advantage."
Oxford BioMedica, says Nick Woolf, executive director, senior vice president, corporate strategy, is consulting with Oxxon employees to determine who will leave the company and who will join Oxford BioMedica. "We do not plan to keep the Oxxon facility since we can accommodate additional staff on the Oxford BioMedica site," he says. Staff numbers are 72 at Oxford BioMedica and 15 at Oxxon.
With applications in cancer and infectious disease, Woolf says PrimeBoost technology could prove useful in Oxford BioMedica's novel or follow-on programs or for licensing to third parties. "We have a proprietary position around some cancer antigens to which we may apply the PrimeBoost strategy," he says. "We are certainly looking at advancing the Hi-8 MEL program, the melanoma vaccine, for which Oxxon has already generated Phase II data. We'll look to take that forward, but we haven't set a development plan." Another key objective at Oxford BioMedica, says Woolf, is concluding a global licensing agreement with a major pharma for its TroVax cancer immunotherapy. TroVax is in various phases of clinical trials for renal, colorectal, and prostate cancers. Other Oxford BioMedica preclinical candidates address neurotherapy.
Berriman believes that Oxxon employees hired by Oxford BioMedica will have more secure futures than as part of an independent small company. He also says Oxxon's exit strategy may become more common. "More and more these days we see M&A as the exit for venture capitalists rather than IPO and, personally, I think that that, for many companies, is the best exit, and the right exit, and I think we'll probably be seeing more of it."