In a rare Europe-based Cuban R&D partnership, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) partnered with a new company formed by French equity investment firm Truffle Capital, licensing a therapeutic vaccine for chronic hepatitis B for sale in markets in Europe and Asia, for starters. Under the agreement, CIGB will manufacture the hepatitis B vaccine in Cuba, for sale in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, once it is approved there.
“As long as CIGB can scale up and meet quality requirements, Cuba wil continue to exclusively manufacture and supply the vaccine,” Truffle co-founder and ABIVAX Chairman Philippe Pouletty told Cuba Standard. He declined to specify which markets are covered by the licensing agreement. Truffle said in a press release it merged three French life sciences companies to form ABIVAX, which the investors would like to become “a global leader” in therapeutic vaccines and antivirals. Founded in December, Paris-based ABIVAX has two therapeutic vaccines under development and is in negotiations over more acquisitions. Poulletty said he hoped CIGB will contribute more products to ABIVAX’ pipeline, but he declined to specify them.
“At Truffle Capital, we are proud to have founded ABIVAX after two years of discussion with Cuba, which is known for its excellent physicians and high-quality vaccines,” Pouletty said in the press release. “This is an international project that is intended to place France and Cuba at the forefront of progress in the field of therapeutic vaccines.”
CIGB, the largest subsidiary of state holding BioCubaFarma, has partnered with companies in China, India, Canada and Brazil, but this is its first such cooperation in European markets. When signing the licensing agreement with ABIVAX executives in Havana this week, Norkis Arteaga Morales, business development director of BioCubaFarma, told Prensa Latina that CIGB will contribute the hepatitis B vaccine, which it already sells in various markets around the globe, and its production capacities, while Truffle will contribute the capital to complete clinical studies in Europe and Asia, as well as its marketing resources.
CIGB products are sold in ALBA member nations Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, as well as in Brazil, China, Vietnam and Angola, among others.
“Our complementary skills in both R&D and production will enable us to take several vaccines into international markets in the years to come”, Arteaga said, according to Prensa Latina. Pouletty told Cuba Standard that BioCubaFarma did not want to form a joint venture this time, but added that ABIVAX has a “very open spirit to future collaboration.” Truffle Capital is a 13-year old independent venture capital firm with €550 million ($754 million) under management and advisory, specializing in energy, information technology and life sciences companies. The firm is led by a team of four general partners, Philippe Pouletty, Jean-François Fourt, Henri Moulard, and Bernard-Louis Roques. Pouletty’s track record includes founding and developing life science companies such as Deinove (Alternext: ALDEI), Carbios, Carmat (Alternext: ALCAR), Neovacs (Alternext: ALNEV), Splicos, Pharnext, Plasmaprime, Vexim, and Wittycell. He holds 29 patents, including the second highest revenue generating life science patent for Stanford University, and was inducted in the Stanford University Hall of Fame of Inventors in 2012. He has an MD from the University of Paris VI, and is a former chairman of France Biotech, the French biotech industry association.
The three French biotech companies Truffle put together to form ABIVAX are Wittycell, Splicos and Zophis. CIGB, which specializes in the discovery, development and production of vaccines and antivirals, has already been working with Wittycell on getting the hepatitis B vaccine to market. The vaccine is in Phase IIb clinical trial in patients with chronic hepatitis B, which leads to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Pouletty made his first contact with CIGB in South Africa four years ago, and he said he was impressed by Cuba’s biotechnology progress.Two years ago, his company began negotiations with CIGB. “It took some time to reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” he said. “It’s a process that can be relatively complex.” Other ABIVAX products under development include an anti-viral drug for AIDS from Splicos, an anti-HPV therapeutic vaccine to treat uterine cervix dysplasia and prevent the emergence of cancer from Wittycell, and an adjuvant to boost NKT and B cell response from Wittycell.