BioWorld International Correspondent

Bolstering its position in the travel vaccines market, as well as its cash balance, Crucell NV completed the acquisition of SBL Vaccin AB for €39.4 million (US$51.9 million) cash and raised €80 million through a new share issue.

The acquisition of Stockholm, Sweden-based SBL Vaccin adds another marketed product to Crucell's travellers' vaccines portfolio, the oral cholera vaccine Dukoral, as well as a successful vaccine distribution business in Scandinavia.

The organization, which has 120 employees, posted €2.6 million in earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) on sales of €25.2 million in 2005. Dukoral contributed more than €14 million to the latter figure. For the first three quarters of this year, it reported sales of €17.6 and €500,000 in EBIT, but the company's fourth quarter typically is its strongest.

"Distributors that do very well and make a lot of money we like to acquire back," Ronald Brus, CEO of Leiden, the Netherlands-based Crucell, told BioWorld International.

SBL Vaccin, which was founded in 1909 as Sweden's national bacteriological laboratory, has had a succession of owners over the past decade. Lund, Sweden-based Active Biotech AB acquired the company from the Swedish state in 1997 and subsequently sold it to Oxford, UK-based Powderject Pharmaceuticals plc. (See BioWorld International, July 11, 2001.)

In 2004, Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron Corp. (now part of Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis AG) sold the company to London-based 3i Group plc; SEB Företagsinvest, the venture capital arm of Stockholm-based Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB; and SBL's management, following its acquisition of Powderject during the previous year.

Crucell's SBL acquisition follows its recent $16.5 million cash purchase of Coral Gable, Fla.-based Berna Products Corp., which holds U.S. marketing rights to an oral typhoid fever vaccine called Vivotif. (See BioWorld International, Oct. 4, 2006.)

The company now has six approved vaccines in total and several others in clinical development, including a yellow fever vaccine that it expects to launch during the first half of 2007. "We are now fully integrated and have all the sales power and marketing required to play a significant niche role in this market," Brus said.

The company also is attempting to leverage its core technologies in mammalian protein expression in order to build a presence in the therapeutic proteins market, although this aspect of the business is less developed. "For us, the end game is to be strong in vaccines and biologics," Brus said.

The company aims to move a monoclonal antibody for rabies infection into clinical development before the year-end. Next year, it plans to commence clinical development of Factor V Leiden, a naturally occurring variant of clotting Factor V, which predisposes carriers to developing thrombosis but which also reduces problems associated with hemophilia. "This molecule alone, we believe, has a market potential of $3 billion," Brus said.

Crucell raised the finance by issuing about 4.6 million new shares, priced at €17.50 per share. The company is using the cash to fund the acquisitions of SBL and of Berna Products Corp. and to retire €19 million of mortgage debt associated with Berna Biotech AG, the Berne, Switzerland-based company it acquired in February in a stock deal valued originally at $449 million. Crucell has an additional €7 million left for "general corporate purposes." It reported €122.3 million in cash and equivalents on Sept. 30, before the recent fund raising.

The company expects revenues for 2006 to be between €140 million and €150 million, and aims to break even in 2007, boosted by sales of its newly approved pediatric vaccine Quinvaxem, which commenced in October.

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