LONDON - Celltech Group plc has made its third acquisition in 10 months, buying Cistron Biotechnology Inc., of Pine Brook, N.J., for US$18 million in stock. The deal gives Celltech, an antibody specialist, access to interleukin-1 patents in the treatment of inflammatory diseases.

At the same time, Celltech announced it expects to sell the vaccine manufacturing plant in Liverpool that it acquired when it took over Medeva plc in November.

Peter Allen, financial director, told BioWorld International, "We have had several expressions of interest and due diligence is in progress. Selling such large assets doesn't happen overnight and we expect to complete the sale by the middle of 2000." The sale is expected to raise around #50 million (US$80 million). Celltech expects to secure a deal with the new owners to continue to market vaccines made at the plant.

Integration with Chiroscience Group plc, acquired by Celltech in June, is now complete, and will result in annual savings of #8 million a year from the beginning of 2000. Cost savings of #15 million a year, excluding divestments, have been identified for Medeva.

"The integration with Medeva is complete for the R&D structure and the pipeline. All other aspects have been agreed to, but the actual process will not be triggered until we dispose of the Speke [vaccines] plant," Allen said. Closure of Medeva's headquarters in Leatherhead, Surrey, will take place once a new building is completed at Celltech's headquarters in Slough.

Celltech, Europe's largest biotechnology company, also said it is dropping its recombinant vaccine, Hepagene, as a treatment for hepatitis B, following negative results in two Phase II trials. The product already has European approval as a HBV vaccine.

One of the main drivers for acquiring Medeva was to get access to its sales force. However, Celltech's first two drugs to be approved, Chirocaine, an anesthetic that received approval in 1999, and Mylotarg, a treatment for acute myeloid leukemia that was recommended for approval earlier this month, will be marketed by partners.

The first homegrown product Celltech will market itself likely is to be Humicade, a humanized anti-TNF-alpha antibody in Phase IIb pivotal trials in Crohn's disease. This has fast-track status, and approval is expected by the second quarter of 2001.

Also around that time the company expects approval of ConXn, a recombinant human relaxin currently in Phase II/III for treating scleroderma.