Selling research

Researchers are having to ‘sell’ themselves to attract government ‘sponsorship’. Take the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR), which recently announced that funding for new buildings at Charlies and the new Fiona Stanley Hospital in Murdoch will “pave the way for a healthier, wealthier WA”. The State Government and UWA will each chip in $50m, and the Lion’s Eye Institute will come on board. WAIMR’s genetics research has everyone speculating on a biotech windfall via pharmacogenetics or other marketable biotech, a perception WAIMR is keen to reinforce. And government knows that hospital specialists offered good research facilities are more likely to stick around. Prof Klinken is pushing a future biotech industry, speculating on end products from gene discoveries – a potential “major new industry” that attracts pharma company dollars and creates jobs. WAIMR points to involvement in Ozgene (which sells genetically modified mice to researchers), Dimerix (into drug design), and commercial projects with Caldeon, Solbec and Australian Orthopedic Innovations. WAIMR may have created 200 “highly skilled jobs” since inception in 1998 but taxpayers are the main underwriters so far.

Radiology merger

The six radiologist partners in Perth Imaging have sold to DCA recently, for a rumoured $20m cash, approved by the ACCC. DCA already owns Perth Radiological Clinic, so a merger of practices is imminent, without disruption to services. Perth Imaging has three sites, particularly the Mount Hospital. DCA are big in diagnostic imaging and aged care through their I-Med network, described as the largest global diagnostic imaging company with 227 clinics in Australia. DCA manages 77 residential aged care facilities in Australia and NZ.

C3 rollercoaster fortunes

What goes up can very quickly come down. Clinical Cell Culture (C3) share price has fallen as low as 10c before settling in the upper teens following a 52-week high of 42cs and a 2004 peak of 58c. Along the way, Fiona Wood stepped down from the Board and then stepped back up again. Adding to share price woes, C3 has had delays in regulatory approval for its products in the US. C3 recently announced revised sales forecast, described as “conservative”, saying its short and medium term focus is on building sales in current approved markets. Employees will be cut from 20 to 14. Research and development were to be outsourced and development of its Epitro product for chronic wound applications is to be postponed. C3 had $13.6m net cash at the end of December and was burning $800,000 per month in stock. On the plus side, C3 has received TGA approval for commercial sales of its ReCell product in Australia.

Drying pharma pipelines

International pharmaceutical business is undergoing rationalisation as major companies discover that new product ‘pipelines’ are drying up. Germany’s drug firms are in a bidding war, with Bayer offering US$19.7 billion for Berlin’s Schering AG (with its relatively large US presence), trumping by 12% an unsolicited US$18 billion offer made by Merck Kg. The $250 billion US drug market accounts for 42% of global pharmaceutical sales. Bayer’s 1899 patent on Aspirin still generates >$1 billion per year but Levitra flopped. Despite the corporate duelling and drying pipelines, Bayer has some promising products with US partners, as does Schering – between them 19 medicines in late clinical testing and four before regulators.