BioWorld International Correspondent

Arpida Ltd. acquired its erstwhile partner Combio A/S in an all-stock transaction that will boost its chemistry capabilities and expand its head count from 47 to 73 employees.

The Muenchenstein, Switzerland-based company also raised CHF33 million (US$26.8 million) in new investment, boosting its total funding to date to CHF140 million. It secured CHF84.3 million this year.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but Arpida plans to maintain Combio, of Copenhagen, Denmark, as a wholly owned subsidiary. "There's no plan to change anything," said Arpida Chief Financial Officer Harry Welten. The organizations know each other well, having entered a research collaboration focused on the discovery of protease inhibitor antibiotics two years ago. "I would not elaborate on that, but certainly the fact that we acquired them is a strong signal that we liked what they did," Welten said. (See BioWorld International, Oct. 16, 2002.)

For Arpida, the main motivation for the acquisition was increasing its focus on chemistry. Although it has 18 existing staff who are working in the area, it remains a bottleneck, Welten said.

"You could outsource some of the tasks to outside third parties but you obviously don't have it under your control," he said. Moreover, building an internal team from scratch would take longer to get fully up to speed, he said.

Combio was spun out of brewing giant Carlsberg A/S, also of Copenhagen, in 2000 to commercialize an integrated combinatorial chemistry synthesis and screening platform based on the use of inert gel-based beads. It also has medicinal and computational chemistry capabilities. Combio had a entered collaboration in inflammation with Prozymex A/S, of H rsholm, Denmark, and in protease inhibition with Aventis SA, now Sanofi-Aventis Group, of Paris.

"We continue to remain strictly focused on bacterial infection and, obviously, everything else will remain subordinate to that," Welten said. "We clearly want them to focus on our projects and, maybe, focus opportunistically on outside projects. But it's not the primary driver anymore."

Combio had raised about €9 million during its existence as an independent company. Shareholders Carlsberg A/S, Novo A/S, Dansk Kapitalanlaeg A/S, LD Pensions and Scandinavian Life Science Venture participated in the new Arpida funding, along with Taiwanese investors CDIB Ventures and Industrial Bank of Taiwan, and two undisclosed French investors. The transaction represents a second closing of Arpida's Series C round.

The company has funding to conduct an upcoming pivotal trial of its lead drug candidate, Iclaprim, a broad-spectrum antibiotic for treating complicated skin and soft-tissue infections. It is evaluating potential licensing opportunities, Welten said. An oral version of the compound is undergoing a Phase I trial. The company's lead preclinical compound, AR-709, shortly will enter a Phase I trial. A further 12 projects are at earlier stages of preclinical development.