Merck Exiting Portions Of Its TBE Vaccine Development Effort? Returns More Rights To Hawaii Biotech

Last July, while Hawaii Biotech was operating in Chapter 11, under the protection of the federal bankruptcy laws, Merck acquired (my background there) some rights to intellectual property that might prove useful in vaccines against tick-borne diseases, like tick-borne encephalitis and mosquito-borne ones, like dengue fever. Back then, in July 2010, Hawaii Biotech was teetering — almost tapped-out on its last bit of available bank-credit. The reacquisition is good news for Hawaii, and probably signals more “focused” (or reduced) R&D efforts in this area by Whitehouse Station.

Today, Hawaii Biotech announced that Merck had returned those rights, per a press release:

. . . .Hawaii Biotech, Inc., a Hawaii-based biotech company focused on the development of recombinant protein subunit vaccines for infectious disease, announced today that it has acquired an exclusive license to tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and malaria virus vaccine technology and a non-exclusive license to recombinant protein expression technology from Merck, through a subsidiary. Both technologies were previously developed by HBI and acquired by Merck as part of a larger transaction in 2010.

“These licenses will enable HBI to proceed with the development of vaccines for TBE, malaria, and potentially other subunit vaccines for important emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and represent a significant milestone for Hawaii Biotech,” noted HBI CEO Elliot Parks, Ph.D. “We are pleased with the working relationship we have established with Merck, appreciate their cooperation, and look forward to continuing the development of these vaccine candidates. . . .”

We’ll keep an eye on this, but that makes it just over a full year and a quarter during which Merck was in possession of these rights, before electing to “take a pass.” It probably speaks more to Merck’s need to focus its R&D, and less-likely any negative comment on the tech itself.


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