Long End of the Stick
Sustainable and increasingly focused, mid-sized vaccines companies are leading the way in European biotech, catalyzed by fears of bioterrorism and a re-emerging belief that prevention trumps cure, both practically and pharmaco-economically.
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The flotation of UK biotech Ark Therapeutics, likely followed closely by Switzerland's Basilea, suggest Europe's public markets are waking up. It's too early, as yet, to call the IPO window open, though. And the string of European hopefuls monitoring Ark's progress and hoping to follow in its wake will have to contend with investors who are far more discerning than during the last upturn. Late-stage products remain attractive, but there are few fixed rules.
European developers of therapeutic cancer vaccines are making steady, if slow progress towards clinical and regulatory success. But late-stage setbacks and delays at North American firms-which are several years more advanced and thus bearing the brunt of working out the regulatory kinks-highlight the challenges associated with bringing a cancer vaccine to market. Given the various technological and commercial approaches to immunotherapy on either side of the ocean, European firms are closely watching the progress of similar technologies in the US.
Chiron's acquisition of PowderJect is the most recent sign that the vaccines industry is coming of age, taking the field's only two mid-sized players up among the top-ranking Big Pharma. This deal was largely about infrastructure. But it suggests any European biotech with a valuable asset--be it product or distribution network--is an attractive takeover target for US firms.