Gilead, Hookipa pen hepatitis B, HIV research collaboration

Gilead has licensed immunization technologies from Hookipa Biotech for use against hepatitis B and HIV. The big biotech is paying $10 million (€8.5 million) upfront and committing to milestones that could exceed $400 million to snag exclusive rights to two technologies in the indications.

In return, Gilead is gaining access to arenavirus vector-based immunization technologies that could further its efforts in two key diseases. Vaxwave is a nonreplicating lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV)-based technology designed to enter and activate dendritic cells to tackle infectious diseases. TheraT is an attenuated arenavirus capable of replicating, a feature that raises safety concerns but also opens the door to superior efficacy.  

Gilead expressed an interest in the technology last year when it participated in the Austrian biotech’s $60 million series C round. Now, Gilead has tightened its ties to Hookipa by licensing the technology and forming a research collaboration.

“We are convinced that Hookipa’s unique therapeutic vaccine technology, which has demonstrated excellent safety and immunogenicity in phase 1 clinical studies, has strong potential to have synergistic effect with other Gilead cure efforts in both of these diseases areas,” Gilead research EVP Bill Lee, Ph.D., said in a statement.

For Hookipa, the deal allows it to profit from the potential of its technology in two major infectious diseases while keeping its internal focus on other applications of TheraT and Vaxwave. Hookipa’s most advanced asset is a Vaxwave-based, clinical-phase vaccine against human cytomegalovirus. But the TheraT-enabled cancer vaccines that are following it down the preclinical pipeline could become the biggest opportunities for the startup. 

The potential of the technologies and caliber of the people advancing them have enabled Hookipa to attract some notable backers. Sofinnova came on board shortly after Hookipa set up shop to build on the work of Nobel Prize-winning immunotherapy expert Rolf Zinkernagel. As the work progressed, the VC wings of Boehringer Ingelheim and Takeda chipped in cash, and ex-uniQure CEO Joern Aldag took the reins at the startup.