HAMBURG, Germany ¿ On March 9, shares of the German combinatorial antibody company MorphoSys AG, of Martinsried, will be traded for the first time on the Neuer Markt, of Frankfurt, which is Germany¿s high-tech stock market. The shares will value MorphoSys at between EUR78 million (US$85.9 million) and EUR89 million.

Around 1.03 million shares are being offered at a range of EUR22 to EUR25; up to a further 154,000 shares are designated for overallotments. About 3.6 million shares will be outstanding after the offering.

The lead manager, Deutsche Bank AG, of Frankfurt, expects about two-thirds of the shares to be held by institutional investors. Shares are being offered internationally, and in the U.S. as a private placement.

Originally, the initial public offering (IPO) was planned for September of last year, but MorphoSys decided to halt it when markets went down dramatically in August. Although analysts and media were disappointed then, interest in the IPO is unchanged, said Simon Moroney, CEO of MorphoSys. ¿There is a lot of interest, not only among private or institutional investors,¿ he told BioWorld International. ¿We are the first biotech company making losses to enter the new market. So, many other companies in the same situation are watching this premiere very closely and take it as a portent for their own IPO.¿

He added that the mood at the international markets was much better now, ¿and the offer of promising biotech shares in Germany is still small, so this could turn out very positive for our after-market performance.¿ So far, the only biotech-related companies traded on German stock exchanges are Qiagen, of Hilden, Germany; Mologen, of Berlin; and BB Bioventure, of Zug, Switzerland.

When it was founded in 1992, MorphoSys was the first German biopharmaceutical company to attract international venture capital. Meanwhile, the company has built a strong position in drug discovery research and inked several license and cooperation agreements with leading pharmaceutical companies. Its Human Combinatorial Antibody Library (huCAL), proprietary rapid screening tools, and ¿mini-antibodies¿ have contributed to the company¿s rapid growth.

Moroney said that MorphoSys would continue to focus on licensing its technology and on cooperating with other companies in the future. ¿However, our technological basis offers a good opportunity to develop own products as well,¿ he said. He added MorphoSys could either try to validate targets or therapeutics together with other companies or identify target molecules from its vast Human Combinatorial Antibody Library (huCAL), the first fully synthetic and completely modular human antibody gene library.

¿HuCAL is a vast collection of potential drugs,¿ Moroney said, ¿and many experts are convinced that therapeutic and diagnostic antibodies have a great future. However, such a step to develop our own products has to be well thought through.¿ He added that he expected a number of new deals in technology licensing, genomic collaborations, and therapeutic antibodies in the near future.

Dave Lemus, CFO of MorphoSys, said the company had raised sales by 80 percent last year to DM8.9 million (US$5 million), with a net loss of DM1.2 million. Sales are expected to reach DM10 million in 1999 and DM50 million by 2002. Analysts expect a break-even point for 2001, and gains of 15 to 20 percent in sales for 2002.

Moroney expressed confidence about MorphoSys¿ patent position, despite an infringement suit filed by Cambridge Antibody Technology plc (CAT), of Cambridge, U.K., in September last year. CAT demands a halt to further production, distribution and screening of MorphoSys¿ huCAL library. Moroney disputed the allegations and said it could be proven that CAT was not in a strong position.

¿Regarding one of the patents in question, there are two so-called preliminary opinions¿ by the European Patent Office that CAT¿s patent is not valid,¿ he said. ¿I expect the same for the other one. To me, it seems just like a maneuver to upset our IPO.¿ He added that the suit will not interfere with MorphoSys¿ business activities. MorphoSys signed a huCAL license agreement with Chiron Corp., of Emeryville, Calif., after the suit was filed. n

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