SK Chemicals Co., a South Korean vaccine maker, has signed an agreement to transfer and license its high efficiency influenza vaccine production technology to global vaccine leader Sanofi Pasteur Inc. The deal is worth US$115 million (168.18 billion won) if all milestones are achieved, which is estimated to be one of the largest vaccine technology exports by a Korean firm.
SK Chemicals announced on Feb. 12 that it has clinched an agreement to license its cell culture vaccine manufacturing technology to Sanofi Pasteur for development of a universal influenza vaccine.
Universal vaccines are the next-generation influenza vaccines designed to protect against a variety of mutated viruses by targeting a common base sequence between viruses. With a history of over 110 years, Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the French drug maker, currently develops vaccines to prevent against around 20 types of infectious diseases and supplies them to more than 500 million people worldwide every year. Moreover, the company produces and supplies flu vaccines on the largest scale in the world.
Under the deal, SK Chemicals will receive an initial upfront payment of US$15 million (16.28 billion won) and an additional US$20 million (US$21.7 billion won) after the completion of the technology transfer. The potential milestone payments could be as high as US$120 million (130.2 billion won) as well as additional royalties on net sales of commercialized products.
SK Chemicals’ cell culture vaccine production technology differs from existing methods by using animal cells that enable a quick and efficient production process.
SK Chemicals used this vaccine production technology to launch a trivalent cell-culture flu vaccine in 2015 and to commercialize the world’s first quadrivalent cell-culture flu vaccine in 2016. SKY Cellflu exceeded cumulative sales of 14 million doses within three years of launch, according to the company.
SK Chemicals has been focusing on vaccine development with a total investment of 400 billion won (US$368.66 million) since 2008. The company’s L HOUSE, one of the world’s top vaccine factories located in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, has foundation technologies and facilities such as cell culture, bacteria culture, gene recombination and protein vaccine, as well as infrastructure that can manufacture most of vaccines that can be developed in South Korea.
Meanwhile, SK Chemicals plans to spin off its vaccine business to establish an independent entity by the end of this year. “To become a global premium vaccine developer, we will spin off our vaccine business to set up a separate firm this year. After the spin-off, we will make an effort to aggressively attract strategic investors and improve the shareholder value by pursuing an initial public offering for the vaccine unit,” a company official said.