A promising new malaria vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK $43.72) offers hope to children in Africa.The final stage trial cut the risk of clinical malaria by 56 % and severe malaria by 47%. Malaria killed 781,000 people in 2009 and is a big problem in sub-Sahara Africa. The data was presented at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Malaria Foundation Conference and the Gates Foundation helped fund ($1.75B) the research through the non-profit the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), a partner on the project.The GSK CEO said the Company does not expect to make a profit on the vaccine as it will be sold at $5 over cost with that be channeled back to vaccine project.
Agenus (AGEN $3.10) was a partner on the vaccine as they provided an adjuvant, QS-21 Stimulon, a component that boosts the immune response to the malaria vaccine. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Agenus has other QS-21 applications in their pipeline: cancer and herpes with GSK and Alzheimer Disease with Janssen, Agenus stock soared to $4.40 on the news Tuesday on heavy volume showing that speculation is alive and well in biotechnology. The 52 week range for the stock is $2.20-6.96 with a current market cap of $58.6M. The Company has $12M in cash but $30.4M in long term debt.
TheStreet.com was quick to point out that royalties for Agenus on the malaria vaccine will be slim and even provided an estimate, but nonetheless their are other QS-21 applications in their pipeline and it is a major clinical milestone for the Company. Vaccines are an important growth market for several major drug companies and new technology such as adjuvants and cell culture are critical to their cost effectiveness.