While most of Europe's bellwether biotechs are spinouts from big pharma, Crucell N.V. is showing that there are other ways that European companies can build critical mass. Since its formation in 1993 as gene therapy company IntroGene B.V., Crucell has transformed itself twice: first with the invention of a packaging cell line that allowed it to build a reputation as a company that did quality work; and second with a series of three acquisitions this year that have made it a major vaccine player.
The latest payoff came last week, as Crucell (Euronext:CRXL; CRXL, Leiden, the Netherlands) won vaccine contracts worth more than $230 million over the next three years from World Health Organization agencies.
Vaccine sales for 2006 are projected to hit $140-$150 million and double within the next two to four years, and now the company is turning its attention to ramping up its biologics business. Investors have rewarded it with a market cap that has grown from $59 million in March 2003 - when it had $122 million in the bank - to $1.4 billion last Friday.
The path towards establishing itself as one of Europe's leading biotechs has not been straightforward. Indeed, the route is littered with both disappointments and some lucky breaks that a fairly constant management team with an opportunistic streak has been ready to exploit.
The lessons, according to the two CEOs CRXL has had over the years, is to drop what's not working without hesitation, continuously expose the company and its offering to the rigor of the pharma industry, and respond to market intelligence garnered from business development pitches to potential customers and partners.
IntroGene was founded in 1993 by Dinko Valerio, Dirk van Bekkum and Bob Loewenberg with seed funding of NLG1 million ($500,000) from Atlas Venture. The founders had a reputation in the emerging field of gene therapy and bone marrow transplantation. The initial plan was to genetically modify hematopoietic stem cells and tackle diseases associated with