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for the illness, Carter says.
Rather than just talk about the value of GLA to MedImmune’s vaccine program, Immune Design let the bigger company test drive the adjuvant to see what it could do in its own labs. The deal was done after MedImmune saw what the adjuvant was capable of, Carter says.
Immune Design may provide a license to one or two more companies for specific uses, but its strategy is primarily to keep the GLA technology to itself for its internal vaccine development programs, Carter says. “We’ll be sparing in our licensing efforts,” Carter says.
More of the focus at Immune Design is being directed to its own therapeutic vaccine candidate in preclinical development, for herpes simplex-2 infections, the cause of genital herpes. That program should be ready for clinical trials as early as the second half of 2011, Carter says. A program like that should be able to generate value quickly, because unlike treatments for cancer or autoimmune disease, anti-viral activity in a small number of patients can provide compelling predictive evidence for future clinical trials.
Carter is best known to the biotech world as the former chairman and CEO of Seattle-based ZymoGenetics. He couldn’t say much about what’s going to happen at his former company, which was recently acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $885 million. Carter came out of semi-retirement in November 2009 to take on the executive chairmanship of Immune Design, purportedly on a three-day-a-week basis. I asked him how that arrangement is going, and noted that it’s not actually quite what he signed up for.
“I should have known, I’m old enough to know better, but when a VC tells you that they want you to come work part-time at a company, what they really mean is they want to pay you part-time,” Carter says.
He said this in his usual charming way, and sounded like he’s enjoying the ride at a small startup again. “Our basic strategy is to show Phase II data with [herpes simplex virus 2] that we can make a therapeutic vaccine with antiviral activity.”
He noted that Bristol-Myers Squibb paid $85 million upfront to ZymoGenetics to get development rights to its hepatitis C drug candidate after it showed promise in just 19 patients. That kind of clinical trial work is well within the scope of a startup like Immune Design, and the potential payoff is the kind of thing that can still make the financial math work for venture capitalists. “This is a blockbuster opportunity,” Carter says.