Takeda builds up new vaccine unit with $60M LigoCyte buyout

Takeda has snapped up LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals and the venture-backed biotech's lead vaccine candidate against a notorious foodborne stomach bug called norovirus gastroenteritis. The U.S. unit of the Japanese drug giant has agreed to acquire Bozeman, MT-based LigoCyte for $60 million, with potential future payouts that were undisclosed, Takeda announced late Thursday.

The buyout follows the launch of Takeda's new vaccine division in January. Takeda, Japan's No. 1 drugmaker, set up the vaccines division with the strong support of Dr. Tadataka Yamada, who was named the company's chief of R&D last year after the GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) veteran's stint at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he was presumably involved in the huge charity's global health and vaccine initiatives. And the LigoCyte deal comes amid a string of deals at Takeda, which days ago announced its collaboration with India's Advinus Therapeutics focused on discovery of drugs against inflammation, CNS and metabolic diseases.

Norovirus infects 21 million Americans per year and leads to diarrhea, vomiting and other symptoms. And most of the 200,000 deaths from the virus occur in developing countries, according to Takeda. 

Takeda plans to keep LigoCyte in Montana with its staff and management. It offers Takeda its first-in-class norovirus vaccine in Phase I/II development as well as preclinical programs for respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and rotavirus. Its platform generates virus-like particles that aid the body in building immunity to bugs while carrying none of the viral genetic material to cause infections, according to Takeda. The 14-year-old biotech's owners include Forward Ventures, JAFCO, Novartis Venture Fund, Fidelity Biosciences, MedImmune Ventures, Athenian Venture Partners, Mitsubishi's MC Life Sciences Ventures and GSK.

"This milestone underscores Takeda's commitment to innovation and the advancement of global public health through the development of novel vaccines," Takeda's Yamada said in a statement. "Norovirus is responsible for a significant burden of disease around the world and is notoriously difficult to control. With this acquisition, Takeda will help to protect families and communities from this virus."

"Vaccines are an important new area," said Anna Protopapas, Takeda's global head of business development, said in an interview in Boston last month.

Takeda will likely to seek "bolt-on" deals in its therapeutic areas of interest in the foreseeable future, after the company pulled off the $13.7 billion buyout of Switzerland-based drugmaker Nycomed last year, Protopapas said.

- here's the release
- check out the Wall Street Journal's article
- and Reuters' brief item