Avant and Celldex to Merge

Xconomy Boston — 

A new company focused on products that harness the immune system will be formed through the merger of Needham, MA-based Avant Immunotherapeutics (NASDAQ: AVAN) and privately held, Phillipsburg, NJ-based Celldex Therapeutics. The resulting firm, to be called Avant, will be worth some $115 million, according to a press release.

Both Avant Immunotherapeutics and Celldex have been working on ways to boost the body’s own immune responses to disease. Avant’s specialty is vaccine delivery, manufacturing, and preservation technologies. (The new combined company’s only commercialized product will be an oral vaccine called Rotarix that Avant Immunotherapeutics developed with GalxoSmithKline.) Celldex was spun out of monoclonal antibody pioneer Medarex in 2003. It has proprietary technology that allows the design of antibodies directly targeting specific immune cells. The goal is to turn the immune system against cancer cells.

Monoclonal antibodies are the fastest growing segment of the pharmaceutical market, but a handful of very successful products dominate the field. Celldex’s approach is unusual because of the way it uses the immune system. Vaccine development, meanwhile, is seeing a resurgence; Avant/GSK’s Rotarix is approved in over 90 countries worldwide, and is currently under review by the FDA.

The merger is expected to close in Q1 of 2008. Una Ryan, Avant’s president and Chief Executive Officer will retain her title and the company will have offices in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Charles Schaller will be chairman of the new Avant’s board. He is currently chairman of Celldex’s board and previously served in that role at Medarex.