GlaxoSmithKline has upped its stake in Japan’s JCR Pharmaceuticals Co and is planning similar deals with other small and medium-sized companies in the country.

GSK has bought almost 1.6 million shares of JCR for about £7.3 million, increasing its stake to 16.7% from around 12%. The drugs giant is now the largest shareholder in the Hyogo-based group which specialises in bioactive products.

The original deal, signed at the end of last year saw GSK obtain global rights to a number of enzyme replacement therapies that could, upon approval, be used to treat orphan diseases such as Hunter syndrome, Fabry disease and Gaucher disease. The company gave special mention to JCR, which got approval in January in Japan for its biosimilar version of erythropoietin for the treatment of renal anaemia, when it unveiled its new standalone unit specialising in the development and commercialisation of medicines for rare diseases in February.

The deal comes as Marc Dunoyer, GSK's Asia-Pacific president and chairman of Japan, told the Financial Times that the “medium-sized segment of Japan is where we're going to focus our attention”. He added that the company is not looking to buy a controlling stake in its prospective partners, saying that “it’s about reassuring them that we're not going to take them out but that we have some complementary areas”.

The FT quoted an independent analyst, Pelham Smithers, as saying that “it is a positive sign that the likes of GSK are interested in Japan”. He said “it strikes me that you can buy into the early-stage pipeline very cheaply” in the country, noting that “if biotech companies in the USA are listing at half a billion dollars, and ones in Japan are doing it at $50 million, the impression is that you're paying less for the early stage pipeline”.

Meantime GSK has re-submitted its supplemental New Drug Application for Avodart (dutasteride) for prostate cancer risk reduction, having withdrawn its initial filing last year.

That submission was pulled in November and at the time a GSK spokeswoman told PharmaTimes World News that the move had been prompted by an “administrative error”. The withdrawal was not the result of new findings related to safety or efficacy, the firm stresses, noting that “the provision of this update to European regulatory authorities is also underway”.

Avodart is currently approved for benign prostatic hyperplasia and had sales in 2009 of £530 million, up 16%, Getting the green light in prostate cancer would boost that figure considerably.

Free vaccines for uninsured
GSK has also announced a plan to provide free vaccines to low-income adults in the USA who lack health insurance.

The programme will cover the hepatitis vaccines Havrix, Twinrix and Engerix-B, as well as Boostrix for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. free vaccines for patients age 19 and older for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. It also includes the cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix for women aged 19 to 25 who, due to their age are not covered under the USA's Vaccines for Children programme which for those aged 18 and below.

Deirdre Connelly, GSK’s president of pharmaceuticals in North America, said that “unfortunately, vaccines are severely under-utilised by American adults”. She added that through the scheme, “we hope to break down one of the barriers to routine vaccination”.

To be eligible for the programme, participants need to be over 18, lack insurance and have an income not more than 250% of the federal poverty level – $27,075 for a single person household or $36,425 for a couple.