Today European drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) announced that the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published results from a late-stage trial of its malaria vaccine, which showed that the vaccine provided significant protection against the disease in young African children. The results were announced in Seattle at a forum hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
More than 3,000 miles away, the 60 employees of Lexington, MA-based Agenus (NASDAQ: AGEN) celebrated the experimental vaccine. Why? Because the vaccine, called RTS,S, is made with an immune-system-boosting plant extract that Glaxo licenses from Agenus.
Agenus is providing the extract, called QS-21 Stimulon adjuvant, for four GSK products that are in late-stage development. As those programs advance, Agenus will receive milestone payments and, for each product that makes it to market, it will receive royalties for 10 years after launch. The financial specifics haven’t been disclosed, but Agenus CEO Garo Armen says, “Our financial gain a few years out, if all these are successful, would be very very substantial.”
Indeed, QS-21 could be a savior for a company that has had its share of near-death experiences. Armen co-founded Agenus in 1994 with the goal of developing therapeutic vaccines containing “heat shock proteins,” which are designed to activate the immune system’s T-cells to fight diseases such as cancer. But the company, which was originally called Antigenics, has struggled to get the FDA on board with its experimental products, and so far has only one cancer vaccine approved in one country—Russia.
As the disappointments mounted, Agenus’ stock fell below $1, forcing the company to do a reverse stock split on September 30 to avoid getting delisted by NASDAQ. “We needed to get out of the penalty box. Being delisted … Next Page »