By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

To bolster what Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. calls its "gene-to-patient" drug discovery platform with a small army of new scientists dedicated to medicinal chemistry, the company said it plans to acquire Cambridge Discovery Chemistry (CDC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Oxford Molecular Group plc, for about $52.7 million (#35 million).

"The focus is less on technology than on the broad capability that we need to move to the next level," said Steve Holtzman, chief business officer of Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennium, who called the price "very fair and, in terms of our goals, a very economic way to do it."

Under the terms of purchase deal, which depends on Oxford Molecular shareholders' approval and is expected to close later this month, Millennium will add about 85 chemists, who will continue to work at CDC's headquarters in Cambridge, UK, and will bring Millennium's total chemistry capability to 150.

The disclosure comes less than a month after Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennium's potential $450 million alliance with Aventis Pharma to develop inflammatory disease drugs. (See BioWorld Today, June 26, 2000, p. 1.)

Holtzman called the CDC deal "particularly applicable" to the Aventis collaboration. The arrangement also will likely help in the recruitment of more quality personnel, he said. Millennium is keeping CDC's top management in "various appropriate roles," he added.

Allan Marchington, CEO of CDC, said the region is "the hub of the biotech industry in Europe at the moment. It's really on fire." He will serve as general manager in Europe.

Existing agreements between CDC and its partners will undergo evaluation, and may be enhanced, Marchington said.

"We've built the company on a platform similar to Millennium," he said. "In the U.S., we're working with Merck, Pfizer and Roche, and they're all satisfied customers. Some of them overlap with some of Millennium's collaborators, so there may be some [added] opportunities there, but at the moment it's something that needs to be done on a one-on-one basis."

The deal with CDC for the scientific expertise called for a purchase rather than some other contract arrangement, Holtzman said.

"You rent things that are not essential," he said.

Holtzman said Marchington will help increase Millennium's presence in Europe. "We do not have another European company on the radar, we don't mean to be signaling that," he said, but the company aims to be global and to achieve "expansion in Europe, whether through endogenous growth or mergers and acquisitions."

The company's stock (NASDAQ:MLNM) closed Thursday at $124.56, up $1.06.

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