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September 29, 2009

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J&J signs flu deal with Crucell

UNITED States health care products maker Johnson & Johnson Inc has bought an 18-percent stake in Dutch biotechnology company Crucell NV for 301.8 million euros (US$440 million) in the hope of developing a universal flu vaccine, the companies said yesterday.

In a joint statement, the companies said their immediate focus would be on developing "monoclonal antibodies" - which bind to a target protein, alerting the body's own immune system to attack it.

Crucell was awarded grants worth up to US$69 million by the US government in August to develop its range of monoclonal antibodies for influenza, which Crucell says have shown early promise in fighting "a wide range" of seasonal and pandemic flu viruses. In fact the company claims the antibodies can fight any influenza, including swine flu and bird flu, and including those flu strains resistant to Tamiflu - the medicine currently most often used to slow their progression.

In the long term, Crucell and Johnson & Johnson said they wish to develop a universal flu vaccine.

They also hope to use similar antibodies to fight other diseases, including rabies.

"Each year, vaccines must be formulated to address the current influenza strain," said Paul Stoffels, head of Johnson & Johnson research.

"A universal antibody or vaccine that protects against a broad range of strains would be an important advance in helping doctors and nurses manage the annual influenza season and control acute epidemic and pandemic outbreaks."

Under the deal, Crucell will retain the right to market products the companies develop jointly in Europe, while Johnson & Johnson will market them elsewhere.

Earlier this year Wyeth entered talks to buy Crucell for US$1.35 billion, but canceled negotiations after Wyeth itself was bought by Pfizer Inc. The agreement with Johnson & Johnson specifies that the US company won't buy any more Crucell shares for three years without Crucell's consent.


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