By Nuala Moran
BioWorld International Correspondent
SAN DIEGO ? Europe has significant advantages as a location for biotechnology companies, according to the experiences of six company founders as described to BIO 2001 attendees Tuesday. One of the most enthusiastic is Lisa Drakeman, CEO of Genmab AB, the antibody company founded around a license from Medarex Inc. and initially backed by private investors in Denmark.
?Our European location has been key to our success to date. We have gone from inception to listing in 20 months.? The company has raised EUR263 million, and is one of the best-funded biotechnology companies in Europe. Drakeman said that bringing validated U.S. antibody technology to Europe had enabled Genmab to get a running start. ?There is a European advantage; we have grown in a way we couldn?t do in the U.S.?
In the U.S., lots of antibody companies are chasing the same financing, she said. In Europe, there are only a few companies based on this technology. Yet investors are aware that the concept of antibody drugs has been validated and that antibodies take around six years to develop, against 10 years for small-molecule drugs, Drakeman added. ?In the pre-IPO round, scarcity value helped tremendously because European venture capitalists want to invest in European companies.?
It also is easier to set up networks of clinical trial sites in Europe, she said. Investigators are keen to work with antibody drugs, and again there is less competition. ?You can set up clinical trials faster,? Drakeman noted. ?We set up parallel recruitment for a trial in the U.S. and Denmark. In the U.S., we recruited two patients in the time we recruited 18 patients in Denmark. And it costs two-thirds less in Denmark, saving time and money.?
Another novel approach to starting a company in Europe was the formation of Geneprot, a Swiss proteomics company, in March 2000. That company was spun straight out of the University of Geneva, said Denis Hochstrasser, a professor at the university. The university has had a long-term focus on proteomics and developed what is currently the biggest proteomics web site, Swissprot, which has 4 million hits a month. ?So, suddenly, with the rise of proteomics, we had the opportunity to spin out a global company directly from a university environment into the world of proteomics.?
The company raised more than $80 million in a collaboration deal with Novartis and went from zero to 92 employees in 12 months, setting up U.S. operations in Princeton, N.J.
Rudy Dekeyser, of Crop Design, Europe?s leading independent ag-bio company, said the anti-GM sentiment and the destruction of GM crop trials had not prevented the formation and funding of the company, which is developing enhanced cereal crops. ?There is a supportive environment ? even though the technology we are working on is very much under debate,? he noted.