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Pfizer Set to Buy DNA Vaccine Firm

Drug major sees PowderMed's delivery system as a leg up in entering the vaccine market

by Rick Mullin
October 16, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 42

Pfizer has agreed to acquire PowderMed, a specialist in DNA vaccine technology, for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition of the Oxford, England-based company, whose most advanced vaccine candidate is in Phase II clinical trials for influenza, marks Pfizer's first purchase of human vaccine technology, according to Martin Mackay, senior vice president for research and technology at Pfizer.

Mackay says Pfizer is particularly attracted to PowderMed's technology—particle-mediated epidermal delivery—which delivers DNA-coated gold particles into the skin using pressurized helium gas. These particles activate cells beneath the skin that trigger an immune response.

PowderMed was formed when biotech firm Chiron spun off the powder-injection part of PowderJect, a drug company Chiron purchased in 2003. PowderMed is privately owned and currently employs about 40 scientists. Mackay estimates its first products will not be approved for four or five years.

Pfizer, which has been investigating outside opportunities in vaccines for two years, sees the PowderMed technology as a potential leg up in its development of vaccine therapies. "We could have entered into the game with the traditional egg-based vaccines," Mackay told C&EN. "But coming into it relatively late, we wanted to at least have the chance to leapfrog the technology." He says the DNA approach has the potential of outpacing developments in both egg-based and cell-based vaccines.

According to John L. LaMattina, president of Pfizer Global Research, although research on DNA-based vaccines is at an early stage, the technology may lead to breakthroughs not only in influenza but in other chronic viral diseases as well. "PowderMed's technology may lead to new vaccines that are easier to use and store than current vaccines and may have the advantage of being more quickly adaptable to changing strains of influenza," he says.


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