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Merck acquires part of bankrupt Hawaii Biotech

Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has agreed to buy Hawaii Biotech’s dengue fever vaccine research unit, giving the local company needed capital as it works toward emerging from bankruptcy.

The funding raised through the deal is critical for Hawaii Biotech, which was on track to exhaust a line of credit by the end of July.

Neither Merck nor Hawaii Biotech would disclose terms of the deal, which was approved Monday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris.

Hawaii Biotech Chief Executive Officer Elliot Parks said Merck’s interest in the company "validates" the work Hawaii Biotech has put into its vaccine program.

"We’re very proud to see that they will develop what we’ve been working on. They clearly have the resources to get the products registered and into the public health system," Parks said.

For Merck, the acquisition will give it the opportunity to expand its lineup of more than a dozen vaccines, including ones for hepatitis A and hepatitis B; measles, mumps and rubella; human papillomavirus; and influenza.

"This is consistent with Merck’s strategy for developing vaccines that meet global unmet medical needs," said Merck spokesman Ian McConnell. "We hope to build upon the important development work of scientists at Hawaii Biotech."

Hawaii Biotech is planning to begin a Phase 1 human clinical study of its tetravalent dengue vaccine later this year. Under a contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Advanced BioScience will oversee manufacturing, assembling and testing of supplies.

Hawaii Biotech also is developing a West Nile vaccine and recently completed a Phase 1 clinical trial with it in humans.

Hawaii Biotech filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December and is currently funding its operations with a $2 million line of credit.

It isn’t the first time that Aiea-based Hawaii Biotech has sold part of its business. In 2006, Hawaii Biotech spun off its non-vaccine businesses into a new Hawaii company called Cardax Pharmaceuticals Inc.


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