BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Tibotec Group NV and Virco Group NV, both based in the Belgian city of Mechelen, have announced their intention to merge and have set in motion the legal process by filing a merger proposal with the commercial court in Mechelen.

The merger is expected to be finalized by the second half of March, Tibotec's vice president, business development, Karen Manson, told BioWorld International. Both are privately held companies and have some Belgian institutional shareholders in common, she said, adding that Virco is slightly larger than Tibotec.

The companies operate at different stages of the drug development process, but both specialize in therapies for HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases and oncology. Tibotec is engaged in drug discovery and development, and has a number of compounds in development, including new HIV compounds in the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase and protease inhibitor classes. Two of those compounds had reached the clinical development stage, Manson said.

As for Virco, it focuses on drug resistance testing and profiling and molecular diagnostics, and is developing new pharmacogenomic tools to improve the targeting of treatment for various forms of cancer. The two companies claim that the new entity will be one of the first to offer individualized and integrated disease management solutions based on genetic information.

According to Manson, the rationale behind the merger is to create a company with the necessary "critical mass stretching the whole length of the drug development chain."

Virco Managing Director Paul Stoffels said it would bring "significant gains in efficiency as well as broadened resources in research and development," adding that the merged company would be able to negotiate "more comprehensive drug discovery and development collaborations."

His opposite number at Tibotec, Rudi Pauwels, said the new entity would be a "world leader in terms of its comprehensive knowledge and expertise in the field of HIV/AIDS and its specialized understanding of the whole disease process from drug discovery and drug resistance to patient management." The new company would be able to "expand treatment options and enable physicians to individualize treatment strategies," he said.

Tibotec in December completed a third funding round in which it raised EUR41.5 million (US$36.5 million) from its existing shareholders. It is engaged in HIV drug screening collaborations with Janssen Pharmaceutica, the Belgium-based subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, and the French company Cerep SA, and is also a partner with the Dutch company Crucell NV in a joint venture specialized in human functional genomics.