Dutch biotechnology company Crucell has agreed to buy Berna Biotech of Switzerland in a deal that will create a major independent vaccine company.

Crucell, which has its own pipeline of vaccine candidates as well as a widely-used platform technology for their production, aims to acquire Berna in an all-share deal valued at 591 million Swiss francs, or around $450 million dollars. The offer of 15.72 francs a share for Berna represents a 20% premium on its recent share price.

In a statement, the companies said the acquisition would create ‘a leading independent vaccine company combining marketed products with a broad and attractive pipeline’. As a combined unit they would also have a greater chance of competing with larger vaccine companies such as Novartis/Chiron, Merck & Co, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis.

Crucell has vaccines for Ebola, influenza, malaria and West Nile virus in preclinical development, and already makes money from licensing out its PER.C6 cell culture strain, used in the manufacture of both vaccines and biologic drugs. Meanwhile, Berna has vaccines for flu, typhoid and hepatitis A and B on the market, a follow-up hep B candidate filed for approval, and vaccines for yellow fever and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Phase III testing.

The combined entity would have cash reserves of 200 million euros, according to the two firms. Third-quarter revenues at Crucell came in at a little over 25 million euros, although the firm still posted a 3.6 million euro loss, while for first half of this year Berna reported a net loss of 11.4 million francs on revenues of 37 million francs.

Earlier this year, GSK – which has itself been buying up companies and technologies in the vaccines sector – said it believed the global vaccine market could quadruple in size by 2015 to £17-£24 billion from its current level of around £5 billion.

This promise of growth has re-ignited interest by pharmaceutical companies in the vaccines sector. Only a few years ago, there was speculation that vaccine research was in steep decline as companies exited what they considered was fast becoming a commodity business.