BioWorld International Correspondent

Crucell NV might raise funding in 2005 to capitalize on new strategic opportunities that might develop outside of its core programs in infectious disease.

Ronald Brus, CEO of Leiden, the Netherlands-based Crucell, said on a conference call Monday that its STAR technology, which boosts recombinant protein yields from cell culture production systems, has performed better than anticipated, but that it might require additional investment in order to "unlock additional value."

Crucell added the STAR platform, which appears to work by blocking a series of chromatin-associated repressors, to its technology portfolio when it acquired Chromagenics BV, of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in March. Genentech Inc., of South San Francisco, is evaluating the technology and has an option to gain a nonexclusive license.

Sally Bennett, a London-based analyst at ING, said the main issue is whether proteins produced using the technology can be regarded as being equivalent to those produced by conventional methods. If so, it could then be applied to the production of biologic drugs that already are on the market, particularly those with ramping sales, without the need for additional clinical trials.

"I think that's really what they're looking at," she said.

Crucell posted a threefold increase in revenues and halved its burn rate in 2004. It reported €22.4 million (US$29 million) in revenues Monday, up from €7.4 million in 2003, and a cash burn of €10.5 million, down from €23.4 million in the previous 12 months.

"Revenues for a company like ours are not the driving force," Brus told BioWorld International. However, he added, they do indicate wide acceptance of the company's cell culture technology platform PER.C6, which has more than 35 licensees. He said the company can grow its revenues further in 2005, when it expects to burn between €15 million and €20 million. The company entered 2005 with €76.7 million in cash and equivalents.

It is moving vaccine development programs for Ebola and West Nile virus into clinical development in the fourth quarter, while its cell culture-based influenza vaccine program, partnered with Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis Group, will move into the clinic in the third quarter. It also plans to initiate a third antibody discovery program in infectious disease this year. It has two antibody development programs under way at present, in severe acute respiratory syndrome and rabies.

"We're really looking now for bigger targets," Brus said.

The company's share price dropped 6.8 percent Monday to close at $13.93, a slide that Bennett attributed to profit-taking. The company's share price more than doubled during 2004.

"They've had a phenomenal run," she said.

No Comments