Johnson & Johnson has bought an 18% stake in Crucell of the Netherlands for 301.8 million euros as part of a pact which will see the two firms develop treatments for influenza and other diseases.

The US healthcare giant has purchased 14.6 million newly-issued Crucell shares with the cash and will also pay potential milestones and royalty payments linked to the successful development of products. Initially, the collaboration will focus on accelerating development of the Leiden-headquartered firm’s universal monoclonal antibody (flu-mAb) targeting all influenza A strains, including H1N1 and H5N1, ie swine and bird flu respectively.

Crucell will be responsible for R&D through Phase IIa of the influenza antibodies it has already discovered, as well as newly-discovered treatments that emerge from the collaboration. J&J’s Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit or its affiliates will then take over late-stage development of the flu-mAb product from Phase IIb onward.

In the longer term, the companies will work on new discovery programmes for a universal influenza vaccine, as well as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines targeting up to three other infectious and non-infectious diseases. J&J will hold commercialisation rights for products resulting from the collaborations in all countries except Europe.

Paul Stoffels, global head of pharmaceuticals R&D at J&J, noted that despite significant advances in prevention and treatment, flu “remains a major health threat, and each year, vaccines must be formulated to address the current influenza strain”. He added that "a universal antibody or vaccine that protects against a broad range of strains would be an important advance in helping doctors and nurses manage the annual influenza season and control acute epidemic and pandemic outbreaks”.

In August, Crucell received a US National Institutes of Health contract aimed at advancing the development of monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of seasonal and pandemic influenza. That contract provides funding of up to $40.7 million, with additional options worth a further $28.4 million.

J&J’s move into vaccines comes a couple of weeks after the firm agreed to pay $885 million for an 18.4% stake in Elan Corp and acquired the rights to much of the Irish group's research into drugs for Alzheimer's disease.