Aiming for the $1bn target

SKYEPHARMA, THE drug development company, is set to go on an acquisitions spree aimed at doubling its stockmarket value in two years, its chief executive said yesterday.

Ian Gowrie-Smith, the Australian entrepreneur who steered the company through a flotation on Nasdaq in July, said he wanted to turn SkyePharma into a $1bn dollar company by the year 2000.

SkyePharma's market value on Nasdaq, the US index for high-growth companies, is around $450m. The shares are also listed in London, where the firm is worth around pounds 230m.

Mr Gowrie-Smith said SkyePharma was targeting US drug companies worth $20m to $30m each, calling on $60m reserves and the issue of new shares. Mr Gowrie-Smith said the company also starts to gain a $30m-a-year royalty payment early in 1999 from the sales of a new version of SmithKline Beecham best-selling anti-depressant Paxil.

SkyePharma reported an increase in its interim pretax loss to pounds 10.4m from pounds 9.2m a year ago, on turnover down 23 per cent to pounds 5m. The company said the shortfall was due to higher costs for the development of new products and lower revenue. Mr Gowrie-Smith, founder and driving force behind Medeva, another biotechnology group, expected earnings to pick up in the second half. Shares in SkyePharma closed down 1p at 57p.

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