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12:00 AM
Jan 06, 2003
 |  BioCentury  |  Finance

Ebb & Flow

Swiss venture capital firms HBM BioVentures and NMT New Medical Technologies are joining forces to create a firm with about CHF830 million ($640 million) under management. The merged firms, which both invest heavily in biotech and emerging pharma, will have investments in over 50 private companies and more than 20 public companies globally.

"Size has become increasingly important to achieve a comparative advantage in the current market," HBM CEO Andreas Wicki told Ebb & Flow. "Only the larger VC players will be able to source and optimally exploit the majority of investment opportunities in Europe and the U.S. An increased asset base will provide the necessary economics to finance such a build-out."

The deal is expected to close by March. When combined, the merged firm's investments will have a geographical split of about 55% in the U.S. and 39% in Europe, including 44% in private companies, 16% in public companies and about CHF320 million ($230 million) in cash.

The combined portfolio will include NMT's investments in Swiss anti-infectives business Arpida, Canadian research tool and product provider Qbiogene, and U.S. ion channel play Icagen.

HBM investments include Swiss infectious diseases company Basilea, Swedish metabolic company BioVitrum, and U.S. cardiovascular play Corgentech.

Hotting up the RA space

FDA's approval of the sBLA for Amgen's Rhode Island manufacturing facility should nearly double the capacity for its Enbrel rheumatoid arthritis drug. Nevertheless, AMGN doesn't expect to give new Enbrel sales guidance any time soon, even though it will have the appropriate forums: a presentation today at JPMorgan H&Q's 21st Annual Healthcare Conference, and an analyst day on Feb. 18. Spokesperson Rebecca Hamm said the company is "standing pat" on current 2003 Enbrel sales guidance of $1.2-$1.4 billion(see "Checking Expectations").

Clearly AMGN is taking a conservative stance after getting snake bit on Enbrel projections last summer. A second quarter manufacturing snafu knocked 5,000 patients off the therapy and forced AMGN to cut its '03 guidance from $1.6 billion (see BioCentury, July 29).

AMGN's caution also may reflect the pending introduction of a competing anti-TNF drug, Humira adalimumab from Abbott(ABT) and Cambridge Antibody Technology (LSE:CAT; CATG), which was approved on Dec. 31, eight days after AMGN's facility approval.

Humira should be on the market mid-month, and investors believe its dosing advantage - once per week versus Enbrel's twice per week - could sway patients. AMGN also is seeking approval of once-weekly dosing of Enbrel.

ABT projects $150 million in Humira sales this year, and expects peak sales to exceed $1 billion, according to spokesperson Cindy Resman. The company said the wholesale acquisition cost of Humira will be $1,100 per patient per month, equivalent to Enbrel.

The third anti-TNF drug on the market, Remicade from Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), posted $918 million in sales in the first nine months of 2002.

The Humira news didn't put much worry into AMGN investors. The stock was down $0.35 to $49.19 on the week after slipping $0.82 to $48.34 on 11.5 million shares on Tuesday.

ABT finished the week up $3.66 (10%) at $40.44 after adding $2.90 to $40 on 8.3 million...

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