HAMBURG, Germany ¿ Rhein Biotech NV announced the acquisition of 80 percent of the vaccine division of the South Korean pharmaceutical company Korean Green Cross Corp. (KGCC), of Seoul. The deal worth US$110 million moves Rhein Biotech to the world¿s third largest vaccine producer of recombinant hepatitis B vaccines.

Rhein Biotech, of Maastricht, the Netherlands, and Dusseldorf, Germany, was founded in 1985 as a spin-off of the University of Dusseldorf. It started as a producer of recombinant proteins using a proprietary expression system based on Hansenula polymorpha. This yeast secretes recombinant proteins into its surroundings and produces only a small number of its own proteins, so recombinant proteins can be produced very efficiently.

Meanwhile the company is operating globally with subsidiaries and joint ventures in the Americas, Asia and several European countries and sells its own products, recombinant vaccines against hepatitis B. The vaccines are marketed via license partners or local joint ventures in countries where there is no prior patent protection, such as Argentina and India. In 1999, the company posted revenues of Euro6.1 million.

Last year, Rhein Biotech signed a research and development agreement with the Dutch National Institute for Health and the Indonesian vaccine producer BioFarma to develop a multivalent vaccine against hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough that could be marketed in Southeast Asia by 2003.

Rhein Biotech and KGCC have been working together since 1993, when KGCC acquired a license to produce the hepatitis B vaccine. ¿Meanwhile, the vaccine has been registered in 31 countries and has been recommended by the WHO to all United Nations agencies,¿ Daan Ellens, CEO of Rhein Biotech, told BioWorld International. ¿KGCC, therefore, belongs to the small number of certified UN prequalified suppliers.¿ Besides, it has established a very efficient manufacturing facility and a dedicated marketing force.¿

Currently, KGCC¿s vaccine division GCVC (Green Cross Vaccine Corporation) is Asia¿s large vaccine manufacturer. It produces 11 different viral and bacterial vaccines and owns licenses for a total of 28 vaccine products. Products are marketed in Asia as well as in Europe, Latin America and Africa. In its research and development pipeline are vaccines against rotavirus infections causing gastroenteritis, meningitis-causing Haemophilus, and several hepatitis B and C and combinations. Last year, total turnover was Euro54 million and profit before tax was Euro18 million.

The US$110 million is being paid in the form of cash and 700,000 Rhein Biotech shares. Rhein Biotech has entered into a bridging finance agreement with two European banks to fund a proportion of the cash transaction and plans to refinance this amount via an equity offering later this year. Shareholders have yet to approve the transaction and capital increase.

¿The acquisition broadens our portfolio in the vaccine market considerably,¿ Ellens said. ¿We are now one of the top worldwide players in the vaccine market and have a unique position as we are both a vaccine and a technology provider. This will enable us to realize our aim of becoming one of Europe¿s top five biotechnology companies¿.

He said that in addition to a new tetravalent vaccine Rhein Biotech was working on, it is developing a second-generation hepatitis B vaccine with a new adjuvant allowing a reduction of the number of shots, and a therapeutic vaccine against hepatitis C in collaboration with Innogenetics, of Brussels, Belgium. ¿Besides, we will continue to produce immune modulators and strengthen our production and services business.¿