By Adam Michael
& Eric Pierce
Staff writers

Needle-free drug delivery, while of obvious interest to patients, hasn't exactly lit a fire under investors. But last week's £52.4 million ($81.2 million) IPO by Weston Medical (LSE:WMG) gave it a market cap of £210 million ($325.5 million). This is far ahead of similar needleless companies like Bioject (BJCT) and Medi-Ject (MEDJ) in the U.S., which have market caps of $43.5 million and $7.5 million respectively.

The companies have slightly different technologies for delivering liquid drugs, which lead to alternative commercialization strategies. WMG's Intraject is a pre-filled, needle-free, liquid injection system. According to CEO Christopher Samler, being pre-filled is the primary distinction between WMG and other needle-free systems. He said a partner can license WMG's system, fill it with therapeutic, and market the whole system, rather than the physician having to add drug. "Our corporate partners want to have the complete system," he said.

WMG has partnerships with Roche for interferon alpha, Glaxo Wellcome for sumatriptan, Pharmacia for its Fragmin low molecular weight heparin, Medeva for a flu vaccine, and one other undisclosed collaboration.

The business model is similar to that of PowderJect (LSE:PJP), which has a needleless system to deliver pre-filled dry powers, and again is able to form partnerships to develop the integrated drug and delivery system. Here, Samler argues that WMG's advantage is that its delivery system can use existing liquid therapies, whereas PJP has to reformulate the liquids into powder. PJP, which closed Friday at 455p, up 10p, has a market cap of £338 million ($524 million).

BJCT's needle-free injection works by forcing medication at high speed through a tiny orifice held against the skin. The resulting stream of fluid penetrates the skin, depositing medication in the tissue. BJCT markets two needle-free injection systems, the Biojector 2000 and the Vitajet 3. BJCT is working on delivering an undisclosed Amgen (AMGN) product using a third system in development, the Iject. Other partners include AngioSense and Ares-Serono. MEDJ's Medi-Jector VISION device uses a coil spring to pressurize the drug chamber and deliver a stream of medication fine enough to penetrate the skin. MEDJ's injectors are in use in Europe and Japan to deliver human growth hormone. MEDJ's partners include N.V. Organon and Becton Dickinson.

WMG closed the week up 6.5p at 176.5p, giving it a market cap of £218 million ($339 million).

New to market/Half empty or half full?

U.S. IPOs continue to sneak out, but only after leaving a pile of cash on the table. The four U.S. IPOs that priced last week - Orchid (ORCH), Genomic Solutions (GNSL), Paradigm (PDGM) and ViroLogic (VLGC) - raised $181 million, but the group left almost as much ($155 million) on the bargaining table.