PARIS ¿ An international research study commissioned from five European laboratories by the European Commission has concluded that the ChemScan microbial analyzer is the most efficient technology available for monitoring the presence of certain pathogens and waterborne particles in drinking water.

ChemScan is the flagship product of a small French firm called Chemunex, which specializes in the development of microbiological testing products. The company has been listed on Easdaq since March 1997, and on the Nouveau Marchi in Paris since June 1998, and has just moved to new headquarters in the Paris suburb of Ivry.

ChemScan can detect a single, living microorganism in any filterable sample within a few hours, without the need to wait for cellular multiplication, which may take anywhere from two days to two weeks. Its efficiency in detecting Cryptosporidium and Giardia, two pathogenic parasites often involved in the contamination of drinking water, was tested and evaluated by laboratories in the Netherlands, France, Germany and the U.K., which concluded that ¿ChemScan was substantially faster than conventional microscopic examination and provided increased sensitivity and reliability for Cryptosporidium detection.¿

The results of the four-year study will be officially delivered to the European Commission before the end of June. The researchers were asked to develop and recommend a standardized and optimized test for the identification and enumeration of Cryptosporidium and Giardia in both source waters and treated waters. The resulting testing protocol is to be submitted to the European Committee for Standardization with a view to being adopted as a norm for the water treatment industry.

Among the organizations in this sector that have already acquired ChemScan analyzers are Lyonnaise des Eaux and Vivendi in France, Thames Water and Anglian Water in the U.K., and the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.

The water industry accounts for no more than 6 percent to 7 percent of Chemunex¿s sales. The main industries to which it supplies microbial analyzers at present are pharmaceuticals (representing well over half its sales), cosmetics, and food and beverages.

While there is every chance that its technology will become a European standard, Chemunex¿s chairman and CEO, Louis Foissac, told BioWorld International that its sales potential in the European water market is limited by the fact that tests for Cryptosporidium are not obligatory in most European Union countries (the main exception being the U.K.). Nevertheless, he expects sales to the water industry to gather strength in the first half of 2000.

At its new plant in Ivry, Chemunex will soon begin manufacturing the reagents needed for use in its microbial testing equipment (which is developed and produced under contract by The Technology Partnership, in the U.K). In addition to the specific reagents for the detection of Cryptosporidium and Giardia it has already developed, Foissac says it will begin producing reagents for detecting other water contaminants within the next six months.

Chemunex was founded in 1986, and was funded entirely by venture capitalists during its first eleven years. It raised FFr81 million ($13.5 million) through its initial public offering on Easdaq in March 1997, and a further FFr67.5 million ($11.5 million) when it obtained its listing on the Nouveau Marchi last June. Since then, however, its share price has headed relentlessly downwards, having tumbled from FFr15 to around FFr5.50 in the past 10 months.

On the other hand, its sales are rising rapidly, having soared by 73 percent to FFr31.2 million ($5.3 million) in the year to June 30, 1998, from FFr18 million in 1996-97. However, although its research and development spending barely changed at FFr27.8 million in 1997 to 1998 as compared to FFr26.2 million in 1996 to 1997, its net loss edged up to FFr26.1 million from FFr25.8 million (and FFr24 million in 1995 to 1996).

Foissac attributed that to foreign exchange losses and to increased investment in the company¿s sales and distribution network, including the establishment of a subsidiary in the U.S. n