By Nuala Moran

BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON ¿ KS Biomedix Holdings plc (KSB) is to acquire the Canadian company Avicenna Medic Inc. for #41.9 million (US$59.3 million), to be paid as #37.2 million in shares and #4.54 million in cash. At the same time KSB announced a placing of 6 million shares at #3.15 per share to raise approximately #19 million.

Avicenna has two proprietary platforms, TransMID and AviMAB, for targeting cytotoxic agents to tumor cells. The lead product TransMID-107R is about to enter Phase III trials for treatment of inoperable brain tumors, and three other TransMID products are in Phase I in other oncology indications. Both technology platforms have the potential to be combined with KSB¿s high-affinity sheep monoclonal antibodies.

Steve Powell, CEO of KSB, told BioWorld International, ¿There is a real cross-fertilization between KSB and Avicenna at a number of different levels. There is great synergy between our technology platforms. They have a late-stage product that could be ready for the market at the end of 2003, shortening the time to becoming [financially] self-sustaining, and they have an FDA-approved manufacturing facility for antibodies, which has the potential to generate revenue providing service to third parties.¿

KSB also announced that it has acquired exclusive licenses to three fully human monoclonal antibodies from Human Antibody Sciences Inc. (HASI), a subsidiary of Intracel Corporation. The licenses include HumaSPECT, initially for use in imaging colorectal cancer; HumaRADHN, a radiolabeled antibody for treating primary head and neck cancer, now ready for Phase II; and HumaRADOV, a radiolabeled antibody for treating ovarian cancer, currently in Phase I. HumaSPECT has approval in Europe, and Powell said he will be looking for a marketing partner.

The deal also gives KSB access to a novel proprietary antigen discovered by Intracel, which occurs in a range of tumor types, and is present in 100 percent of patients tested to date.

Overall, the acquisitions will propel KSB from a discovery operation to a product development company. ¿The acquisition of Avicenna, together with the products licensed from HASI, creates a strong late-stage clinical oncology program, which will strengthen and balance our overall portfolio,¿ Powell said.

The offer has been fully underwritten by WestLB Panmure. While he says ¿nothing is straightforward in the current market,¿ Powell is confident that all the shares will be taken up. The share price fell 6.5 pence to #3.41 when the acquisition and placing were announced.

A week earlier KSB announced the formation of Discerna Ltd., a 50-50 joint venture with Babraham Bioscience Technologies Ltd., of Cambridge. This will bring together BBT¿s ribosome display technology for the rapid identification and characterization of antibodies and other proteins and peptides, from large, diverse libraries with oncology targets provided by KSB. The joint venture, which KSB is entirely funding for the first two years, will speed up its development programs and feed its pipeline, the company said.

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