For the past few weeks, we’ve discussed the widening effects of the current pandemic on healthcare M&A, particularly on the services sectors, but until this week, dealmaking hasn’t been directly focused on COVID-19. As the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, companies are bolstering their efforts with new collaborations and acquisitions. They’re the first transactions of their kind, and we expect to see more in the coming months.
This week, Novavax, Inc. (NASDAQ: NVAX), a clinical-stage company focused on developing recombinant protein nanoparticle vaccines, spent $167 million cash to acquire Praha Vaccines from Cyrus Poonawalla Group. Based in the Czech Republic, Praha Vaccines is manufactures immuno-biologicals.
The acquisition includes a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and other support buildings, along with the existing employees and all related and required infrastructure. Starting in 2021, the facility is expected to provide an annual capacity of more than 1 billion doses of antigen for NVX‑CoV2373, Novavax’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Novavax will work collaboratively with the Serum Institute of India (SII), part of the Cyrus Poonawalla Group, to increase production levels at the Bohumil facility by the end of 2020.
Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) also announced a transaction focused on COVID-19 vaccine development. For an undisclosed cash price, the company purchased Themis Bioscience, an Austrian based biotech firm. Themis holds a broad pipeline of vaccine candidates and immune-modulatory therapies developed using its measles virus vector platform based on a vector originally developed by scientists at the Institut Pasteur, a European vaccine research institute, and licensed exclusively to Themis for select viral indications.
In March, Themis joined a consortium with the Institut Pasteur and The Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, supported by funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), to develop a vaccine candidate targeting SARS-CoV-2 for the prevention of COVID-19. The vaccine candidate is in pre-clinical development, and clinical studies are planned to start later in 2020. Themis will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck.