GlaxoSmithKline to buy Swiss biotech firm Okairos

British drug company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) today said that it will buy privately-owned Swiss biotechnology company Okairos for €250 million ($321 million).

Basel-based Okairos, which is backed by venture capital investors, including BioMedInvest, the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, Novartis Venture Funds and Versant Ventures, is developing a new vaccine technology based on chimpanzee viruses.

Okairos' platform technology is based on novel viral vectors (mechanisms which deliver genetic material into cells) that are designed to help stimulate immune responses, and aim to protect against and treat infectious diseases and cancer.

GSK said that the potential of Okairos technology has been tested in clinical studies in which over 700 people have been vaccinated, including Phase II programmes in hepatitis C and malaria.

Okairos also develops genetic vaccines for major infectious diseases, including malaria, hepatitis C, HIV, respiratory syncytial virus and cancer.  The company is also pursuing therapeutic vaccines to treat cancer.

''Okairos' technology complements GSK's existing vaccine technology and expertise and will enable GSK to continue its work developing the next generation of vaccines,'' the London-based company said in a statement.

Under the terms of the deal, GSK will take full ownership of the company and assume ownership of early stage drugs for diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus, hepatitis C virus, malaria, tuberculosis, ebola and HIV, supplementing its existing vaccines pipeline.

GSK also has its own vaccines for influenza, hepatitis and rotavirus. It has been developing an inoculation for malaria.

The company's vaccine business generated £3.3 billion ($5 billion) in revenue last year.

Christophe Weber, president, GSK Vaccines said, ''This is a fantastic opportunity for patients and our research organisation as it is expected to contribute to the development efforts for an exciting new generation of vaccines, building on the excellent science and expertise of both companies.''

Riccardo Cortese, CEO and founder of Okairos, said, "I am extremely pleased with this agreement, which will enable GSK to build on the hard work we have put into developing our vaccines and platforms to the stage that they are at today.''