Danish company Novozymes A/S acquired a recombinant protein company from the Sanofi-Aventis Group, creating a new subsidiary based in Nottingham, UK.

Delta Biotechnology Ltd., which was formed in 1984, now falls under the realm of Copenhagen-based Novozymes. Delta brings to the table a business with research and development, as well as manufacturing facilities. The company develops and manufactures recombinant protein products using engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast strains.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but the fit is good for both companies, said Anders Gram, managing director of the new company now named Novozymes Delta Ltd.

"It brings Delta into a company, which is actually focused on what Delta is doing - producing biotech ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry," Gram told BioWorld Today. "They have been a little bit outside of the focus of the Sanofi-Aventis Group."

For Novozymes, it expands the company's offerings, Gram said, and represents "the first acquisition that really brings our own proprietary biotech ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry into our portfolio."

With 106 employees at its Nottingham facilities, Delta "has been around since 1984," Gram said, "but it has gone through the usual changes of ownership" before eventually becoming part of Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis.

Novozymes' roots were as a part of the Novo Nordisk A/S organization in Bagsvaerd, Denmark. The company went public on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange in 2000 as an industrial enzyme business and is well known for its production of enzymes in a range of microorganisms. It has 4,200 employees worldwide.

Last month, Novozymes entered a three-year collaboration with China Resources Alcohol Corp. to conduct research into processes for producing cellulosic-based ethanol, or second-generation biofuel, in China. And just before announcing the acquisition of Delta, the company said it entered an exclusive agreement with Atlanta-based Serologicals Corp. to develop animal-free recombinant human albumin for cell culture media formulations. Novozymes is manufacturing r-Probumin AF using its Aspergillus fermentation platform.

"It was natural for us to extend from the enzymes and into other areas," Gram said, explaining the company's interest in Delta.

Novozymes likely will pursue other such buyouts or in-licensing opportunities in order to grow, but also will focus on "internal projects," Gram said. The company recently published in Nature an article about "a very interesting molecule we call plectasin," he added. Scientists from Novozymes, Novo Nordisk, the National Center for Antimicrobials and Infection Control in Copenhagen, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington isolated plectasin from a fungus. Structural studies have shown that it is similar to defensins, a family of antimicrobial peptides.

Delta's business involves the licensing of a yeast-based expression system to pharmaceutical, health care and biotech partners. It has one commercialized product, Recombumin, the world's first and only animal-free recombinant human albumin on the market. Partners use it to manufacture human therapeutics approved by the FDA and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA).

"The market for safe, animal-free recombinant proteins is growing," said Dermot Pearson, commercial operations director of Novozymes Delta, "and with Novozymes backing us, we'll be in a great position to satisfy this market."

Aside from Recombumin, the company is developing albucult, a yeast-derived recombinant human albumin solution, and DeltaFerrin, a yeast-derived highly purified recombinant human transferrin, both designed specifically for cell culture applications. They are produced without the use of animal- or human-derived materials, meaning there is no risk of contamination with certain viruses or prions. Delta said it is anticipating commercial quantities of DeltaFerrin to be available later this year, and of albucult to be available early in 2007.

Novozymes' new subsidiary will remain in Nottingham but operate under the new name. Delta also provides molecular biology manipulation of yeast, through process development and analytics, to commercial-scale manufacturing of recombinant albumin in a cGMP-compliant Health Canada facility.

Annually, Delta brings in about £10 million (US$18.5 million) in revenue, Gram said.

Included in the acquisition is Delta's intellectual property portfolio, which covers the production of recombinant proteins at a highly competitive cost, the company said. Its protein expression abilities include the production of native or modified polypeptides and the secretion of proteins genetically fused to albumin using its albumin fusion technology, albufuse.

By fusing proteins to albumin, researchers can significantly enhance circulatory half-life, the company said.

"All of us are very excited about this acquisition because it brings a lot of competency to the Novozymes family," Gram said.

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