LONDON - UK biotechnology passed a significant milestone last week with Celltech Chiroscience plc, the oldest company in the sector, reporting its first profit - of #10.7 million (US$15 million) - for the six months ended June 30.

However, most of the turnover came from the Medeva pharmaceuticals arm, which Celltech acquired at the beginning of 2000. Turnover in the Medeva businesses in the six months was #101.8 million, while Celltech Chiroscience revenues were #12.7 million. At the same stage last year, before it had acquired Medeva, Celltech Chiroscience had a pre-tax loss of #5.9 million.

During the first half of the year Celltech Chiroscience, based in Slough, reached another important stage in its development with the launch of its first two products, the local anesthetic Chirocaine, and Mylotarg, an antibody-targeted chemotherapy treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. Mylotarg was launched in the U.S. on June 1 by the company's partner, American Home Products Corp., and sold $3.8 million to June 30.

CEO Peter Fellner said Celltech is delivering on the promised gains from its mergers with Chiroscience and Medeva. "It is also delivering innovative new drugs from its extensive pipeline, with two product launches and continuing advances with other key products," he said.

A second antibody product, Humicade, which is a humanized anti-TNF-alpha antibody, has now entered a pivotal Phase III trial in Crohn's disease patients who are steroid-dependent. The six-month study in 300 patients will assess the ability of Humicade to control the disease while withdrawing steroids. Results are expected during 2001 and Celltech intends to market this product itself in the U.S.

A further anti-TNF-alpha product, CDP 870, a PEGylated antibody fragment, has moved into a Phase IIb dose-ranging study for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Results of the 200-patient study will be available in 2001.

The mergers of Celltech with Chiroscience and Medeva has created a significant R&D operation with an annual budget of over #70 million and 550 staff based in Slough and Cambridge, England, and Seattle. n