Circassia to Sell Own Cat-Allergy Vaccine If Test Works

Imperial Innovations Group Plc will help Circassia Holdings Ltd., in which it holds a 20 percent stake, commercialize a cat-allergy vaccine if it clears final-stage trials even as would-be suitors target the company.

Closely held Circassia began a final round of tests for the vaccine on 1,200 patients last year and expects to get the results in 2015, Imperial Chief Executive Officer Susan Searle said today. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency have told the Oxford, England-based company that a single positive Phase III trial on the vaccine is sufficient for approval, she said.

“Circassia is being run as a business and we’re running that business with a view to eventually taking the products to market,” Searle said in a telephone interview. Venture capital groups such as Imperial, which grew out of the university Imperial College London, usually invest in technology at an early stage before exiting in an initial public offering or via a takeover by a larger pharmaceutical player.

“There’s lots of interest in what Circassia is doing, lots of interest from across the globe,” Searle said, when asked about Imperial’s possible exit strategies.

The potential market for a cat-allergy vaccine may be worth as much as $1 billion in the U.S., Circassia said, citing consultancy group Kantar. The company is also doing tests on the vaccine for allergies to grass and dust mites.

Reducing Symptoms

Previous tests on the vaccine have shown it’s more than twice as effective at reducing symptoms in those allergic to cats than existing pills and sprays, Circassia Chief Executive Officer Steven Harris said in an interview last year.

Circassia is competing with allergy vaccine developers including Biomay AG of Vienna, which is seeking a treatment for grass pollen allergy. The vaccine may also go up against medicines such as New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson’s Zirtek, a tablet that eases swelling, itching and sneezing, and GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s nasal steroid spray Flonase.

Circassia hired Brett Haumann, former vice president, medicines development leader of London-based Glaxo, as its chief medical officer in September, Searle said. The company’s chairman is Richard Sykes, who was Glaxo’s chairman and chief executive officer until 2002.

Circassia’s technology is based on research carried out by Mark Larche and A. Barry Kay, who hold small stakes in the company, at Imperial College London in the 1990s. The ToleroMune T-cell vaccine they developed uses short sequences of amino acids, known as epitopes and drawn from the allergic substance, to try to build tolerance in the person’s immune system and shut down its allergic response.

Circassia Investors

Circassia has raised 105 million pounds ($159.6 million) since it was founded in 2006, Harris said last year. In addition to Imperial, investors included Invesco Perpetual, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lansdowne Partners and Fleming Family & Partners Ltd.

Searle said the fair value of Imperial’s investment in Circassia grew to 38.2 million pounds as of Jan. 31 from 36.7 million pounds on July 31. Circassia, battery materials maker Nexeon, and heart disease product business Veryan Medical accounted for more than half of Imperial’s total portfolio at the time, she said.

Imperial invested 14 million pounds in 15 portfolio companies during the first half ended Jan. 31 and had cash and investments of 63 million pounds, Searle said.