Abbott, North American enter deal Pharmaceutical giant to market vaccine for Beltsville firm

August 16, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Abbott Laboratories, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, said yesterday that it will pay $42 million for the rights to market Beltsville-based North American Vaccine's new whooping cough vaccine in the United States.

The deal marks the first major marketing partner 5-year-old North American has landed.

The company's pertussis -- or whooping cough -- vaccine has not yet been approved for marketing in the United States. It would be included in a vaccine that also protects against diphtheria and tetanus.

"This is an incredible, huge deal for them," said Ronald J. Stern, a vaccine expert and drug industry analyst with New York-based Buckingham Research Group. "North American could not have picked a better partner."

Wall Street investors apparently agreed: Shares of North American Vaccine rose $2.875, or 15 percent, yesterday to close at $21.625 on the news.

"This is a very big deal for us. Abbott is a successful and strong partner," said Antoinette Lipani, manager for marketing and communications for North American.

Under the agreement, Illinois-based Abbott will take an undisclosed equity stake in North American and will make up-front licensing payments for U.S. marketing rights for the vaccine.

The companies did not disclose what the sales royalty arrangement is in the agreement, but the industry norm is between 10 percent and 15 percent.

Under the agreement, Abbott, which currently does not market any vaccines, will handle marketing to managed care companies and pediatricians. North American will handle selling the vaccine to the Centers for Disease Control, which handles vaccine distribution for government-sponsored innoculation programs.

The deal with Abbott, which netted $1.6 billion on sales of more than $10 billion last year, should give North American an edge in the race to grab a share of the estimated $200 million to $300 million annual U.S. market for the new vaccine, said industry analysts.

That would be a welcome revenue stream at North American, which posted a loss of more than $5 million in 1994.

Abbott spokeswoman Kathy Mattson said the company chose North American's vaccine for marketing because the company believes it is "the best technology" of the four new whooping cough vaccines that have been developed.

Three other well-known and well-healed players in the drug industry also have developed effective new pertussis vaccines: California-based Chiron; British- based SmithKline Beechum PLC; and Connaught Laboratories, based in Pennsylvania and owned by Rhone Poulec SA of France.

On July 31, Connaught became the first to get Food and Drug Administration approval to market its new pertussis vaccine, called Tripedia, in the United States.

North American is awaiting an FDA hearing date for its vaccine. The company expects to get that hearing during the fourth quarter of this year.

Dual advantage

Stern, the analyst, said that should North American receive FDA approval for its pertussis vaccine, it would have a double-barreled salvo for its marketing effort of its pertussis vaccine.

The first, he said, would be Abbott's huge sales force -- 500 people -- dedicated to the pediatrics market.

"They have the largest dedicated sales force for pediatrics of any drug company," Stern said.

Abbott also has a reputation for its deep line of infant care products ranging from baby foods and vitamins to antibiotics.

The other edge, said Stern, will be the vaccine's high safety rating.

North American's vaccine is made from a highly purified antigen rather than the whole cell of the pertussis bacteria, as is used now for the vaccine.

Parents and pediatricians have longed for a new generation of whooping cough vaccines because the vaccine currently used has been implicated as causing, albeit rarely, side effects.

North American's vaccine, said Stern, has been shown in clinical studies to have a very low incidence of causing side effects. And it showed a much lower incidence of side effects than competitors' new vaccines.

"The major issue in [deciding] which vaccine to order won't be price," said Stern. "It's going to be safety."

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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