Merck buys dengue fever vaccine research unit

Merck & Co. has agreed to purchase the dengue fever vaccine research unit of Hawaii Biotech.

Elliot Parks, Hawaii Biotech's CEO, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that the deal "validates" the work that Hawaii Biotech has puts into its vaccine unit.

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

A Phase 1 human clinical study of Hawaii Biotech's tetravalent dengue vaccine is expected to begin later this year. The company is also currently developing a vaccine for West Nile virus, recently completing a Phase 1 clinical trial in humans.

The deal allows Merck to expand its vaccine lineup, which currently includes vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B; measles, mumps and rubella; HPV and influenza.

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

The deal comes on the heels of Hawaii Biotech's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December. Operations are currently funded by a $2 million line of credit. The company, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports, was on track to exhaust its line of credit by the end of this month.