GlaxoSmithKline has signed a deal to get exclusive rights to early-stage vaccines for Alzheimer’s disease being developed by Affiris, an Austrian biotechnology firm which stands to gain up to 430 million euros.

The drug major’s GSK Biologicals unit has bought the rights to develop and commercialise two Alzheimer’s disease vaccine candidates which target beta-amyloid. The jabs are based on Affiris’ Affitope technology and are currently in Phase I trials.

Cashwise, GSK will make an upfront payment of 22.5 million euros and also has an option to develop other vaccines in preclinical development. If all goes well, Affiris will be eligible for future milestones and royalties.

Jean Stephenne, president of GSK Biologicals, said "we are impressed with the Affiris technology” and “combined with our expertise in innovative adjuvant systems”, this collaboration will improve our chance of success in the discovery of new treatments against this major disease”. Affitope allows the design of proteins with “very specific binding characteristics that are ideally suited for the development of vaccines against disease-causing `rogue’ human proteins”, the firms added.

The deal does not represent a major initial outlay for GSK but that is unsurprising given the risky nature of Alzheimer’s disease research, though it could represent a highly lucrative market.

Meantime, GSK has been boosted by the news that the European Medicines Agency has recommended that the firm’s weight loss drug Alli (orlistat) should be sold over-the-counter. The firm expects to launch the drug, a half-dose version of Roche’s Xenical, in Europe in 2009, pending final marketing clearance.

The agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has concluded that a lower dose capsule (60mg) was was effective in helping patients to lose weight when taken in conjunction with dieting and its side effects were milder than those with the existing 120mg dose, which requires a prescription.

The CHMP also said it was “reassured that patients taking Alli 60mg would be encouraged to continue seeing healthcare professionals for weight-related issues, such as blood pressure checks or tests for diabetes".

Alli, which was launched as an OTC in the USA in February 2007, saw its sales dip 50% there in the third quarter to £18 million and a European launch will breathe life into the franchise. John Clarke, president of GSK Consumer Healthcare, noted that this is the first time a non-prescription product has been centrally reviewed and given a positive opinion by the CHMP. “This is a real testimony to the strength and regulatory expertise that GSK has within the consumer healthcare arena,” he added.