Glaxo's malaria vaccine halved the risk of African children getting the mosquito-borne disease in a large clinical trial. Bill Gates and other global health officials heralded the vaccine trial results as an unprecedented achievement that will save countless lives.
Investors read the news and sent shares of Agenus soaring by as much as 60% to $4.43 Tuesday based on a misguided notion that the cash-burning, money-losing drug maker will profit off its small part in developing the Glaxo malaria vaccine.
That's not likely to happen. Indeed, Agenus makes the immune system-boosting ingredient that's part of the Glaxo malaria vaccine. And Agenus will receive low single-digit royalty on sales of the malaria vaccine.Which is where Agenus' party ends. Glaxo wants to be perceived as a good global citizen, so it's basically giving away the malaria vaccine. The exact cost of the vaccine hasn't been disclosed but $10 per course of treatment is the rumored price tag. Glaxo has pledged to price the malaria vaccine as low as possible. "We're not going to make any money from this project," said Glaxo CEO Andrew Witty, according to Reuters. In 2009, Agenus, then known as Antigenics, disclosed that its royalty rate for the QS21 adjuvant under the Glaxo agreement ranged from $1.5% to 6%, depending on the vaccine, but was generally in the low-single digits. If Glaxo is pledged to generate no profit from the malaria vaccine, it’s probably safe to assume that Agenus' royalty is on the low end, or 1.5%. That means for every $10 treatment course sold, Agenus' share would come to 15 cents. Malaria kills about 800,000 people every year. If 1 million people were vaccinated with the vaccine, Glaxo sales would total $10 million; Agenus' share would be $150,000. The World Health Organization reports 225 million cases of malaria in 2010. If every infected person had been vaccinated to prevent infection in the first place, Glaxo's malaria vaccine could theoretically generate $2.25 billion in sales. Agenus' share of that blockbuster vaccine would be just $34 million.