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Biotech Companies Running into Roadblocks in Entering into Deals with the UC System

Written by on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Biotech companies are running into roadblocks when they enter into deals with the UC System, according to a report this week by the San Francisco Business Journal

According to the San Francisco Business Journal, the key problem is that it simply takes too long to get the deal done.  The San Francisco Business Journal reported:

"Most of us would prefer not to work with" the UC System, [Don] Francis [chairman and executive director of the South San Francisco nonprofit Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases and co-founder of Vaxgen, Inc. of South San Francisco] said at a recent UCSF forum on product development partnerships

Francis recalled VaxGen’s late-stage AIDS vaccine trials that included UC sites. Because UC lawyers pushed for intellectual property rights for the system — though VaxGen had done the research and was only conducting paid-for trials at UC — agreements took months rather than weeks to complete, Francis said. In fact, UC was the last series of clinical sites to sign on. 

It’s fixable. . . . but unless changes are made, he said, UC will drive away companies.

The other significant problem, according to the San Francisco Business Journal, is that the UC leadership is just too risk-adverse.  The San Francisco Business Journal reported:

Deals must pass "the Chronicle test," said Jack Newman, a UC Berkeley graduate and now senior vice president of research at Amyris Biotechnologies Inc. in Emeryville. In other words, UC system lawyers want to be sure no one — those pesky media types, in particular — can accuse them of giving away too much value.

As an IP attorney who regularly handles deals with universities and companies in the private sector, my personal experience has been that deals with universities in general do tend to take an excrutiatingly long time to get finalized and signed.  Typically, the time period far exceeds the normal negotiating period in the private sector. 

Why is this? 

Well, in all likelihood, it is because the universities operate on a different timeclock.  Businesses are often anxious to get deals signed, so that they can move on to a different set of problems and concerns.  However, universities frequently operate on a different schedule and set of priorities–there just is not the same level of pressure to get the deal closed in a specific period of time that you have in the private sector.  I suspect that if you took a survey of all of the tech transfer offices around the country, you would find that the UC System’s turnaround time is fairly representative of what you find at other university tech transfer offices.

I would be interested in hearing from others of you in the blogosphere who have experience with doing deals with universities: what has your experience been with the turnaround time?  Has your experience been similar to mine or have you found that any particular universities are operating at a much faster timetable?  I will, of course, share any feedback I receive on this topic. 

Category: Biotech Deals  |  Comments Off on Biotech Companies Running into Roadblocks in Entering into Deals with the UC System

VaxGen Terminates Merger Agreement; Liquidation May Follow

Written by on Monday, March 31st, 2008

VaxGen announced the termination of its merger agreement with Raven in a press release issued last Friday.  As a result, liquidation may be in the company’s future, reported Steve Johnson for the San Jose Mercury News

According to Johnson, VaxGen had planned to have its shareholders vote on the merger Monday morning, but it became clear that the deal was not going to be approved by VaxGen’s investors.

Johnson reported on the "troubled" history of VaxGen as follows:

Founded in 1995, it labored for years to develop a vaccine for the AIDS virus, HIV, but was forced to give up that quest in 2003 after its vaccine proved ineffective. In subsequent years, the company disclosed that its financial records were in disorder, resulting in it being delisted from the Nasdaq Stock Market in 2004.

The government provided a brief salvation. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal officials in 2002 and 2003 gave VaxGen $101.2 million to begin developing a new anthrax vaccine. The government followed that up in 2004 with $877.5 million more to provide 75 million doses of the vaccine.  It was the biggest contract ever awarded under President Bush’s anti-terror program, Project BioShield, but it was short-lived. The government revoked the contract in December 2006 when the vaccine failed a key test. .  . .

In the interest of full disclosure, VaxGen was a client of my previous employer, Pennie & Edmonds, LLP and I did some work for the company during the term of my employment at the firm.  It has been sad to see the company fall on hard times, and I am sorry now to see this report of the company moving toward liquidation.  I remember a time when VaxGen’s future seemed very full of promise, and when the management team’s enthusiasm for its work was quite infectious (no pun intended).  While the nature of the biotech business model is inherently risky and some companies will inevitably fail while others will be wildly successful, it is still sad to see VaxGen come to the end of its road under these circumstances.   I had hoped that the company would enjoy a very different fate: that its AIDs vaccine would prove to be the answer to preventing AIDS that we hoped it to be.  Hopefully the work of VaxGen–despite all of its "troubles"–has nevertheless brought us one step closer to finding that answer. 

Category: Biotech Deals  |  Comments Off on VaxGen Terminates Merger Agreement; Liquidation May Follow

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