PARIS ¿ The French drug delivery company Ethypharm plans to launch an initial public offering on the Premier Marchi of the Paris stock exchange. The move comes nearly 24 years after the company was founded in 1977.

During that time, Ethypharm, which is based in the Paris suburb of Saint Cloud, has developed into a medium-sized enterprise and now claims to be the world¿s fourth largest drug delivery systems company. It has operations in North America and Asia as well as in Europe and employs more than 700 people. In 2000 the company¿s revenues were EUR105 million (US$90 million) and it made what Chief Financial Officer Pierre-Jean Esmieu-Fournel described as a ¿reasonable profit.¿

The planned IPO is awaiting the go-ahead of the Paris stock market authorities, so the company is unable to disclose further details at this stage. However, CEO Patrice Debrigeas did say that the IPO would give Ethypharm the resources to ¿build a stronger presence in the key North American market and to invest in cutting-edge products . . . including those emerging from biotechnology research.¿ Those products include its 5-FU microspheres for the treatment of certain types of brain cancer, he added. Moreover, although it remains specialized in drug delivery, Ethypharm has the long-term ambition of becoming a ¿fully integrated specialty pharmaceutical company.¿

Ethypharm has developed a range of drug delivery technologies, although its activities to date have focused on oral delivery. Two recent additions to its drug delivery armory are oral-enhanced absorption and injectable modified-release systems. Its main products are sustained-release formulations of Diltiazem, used to treat hypertension and angina, and morphine, for the treatment of pain.

The company also has developed an oral formulation of the anticancer drug cisplatin, which uses its microgranule-enhanced absorption technology. The drug is in Phase I clinical trials at several cancer centers around France, and in May Ethypharm announced positive preliminary results from the trial. Cisplatin has been used for over 20 years to treat certain cancers, proving particularly effective against testicular cancer, but its use has been limited since it must be administered by intravenous injection and because of its adverse side effects, such as renal toxicity. No sign of nephrotoxicity has been observed in Ethypharm¿s formulation, however, which the company described as ¿encouraging.¿

Another of Ethypharm¿s products is a micronized formulation of fenofibrate, a drug used in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Under a licensing agreement signed in May, Ethypharm granted Reliant Pharmaceuticals LLC, of Liberty Corner, N.J., full North American rights to the product. The agreement provides for Reliant to be responsible for the clinical development of micronized fenofibrate and for obtaining regulatory approval for it in North America, as well as for sales and distribution. Fenofibrates are already in use in the U.S. for lowering the volume of triglycerides in the blood and increasing the amount of HDL cholesterol.

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