Celltech profits delay

Celltech said yesterday that the failure of its lead drug for septic shock would mean the group would now not be profitable until 2000, two years later than expected.

However, Peter Fellner, chief executive, said the group's follow up treatment for the bowel condition, Crohn's disease, would replace at least a third of the value the company had lost after it was forced last week to abandon the sepsis drug, which was being developed in partnership with Bayer.

Dr Fellner said Bayer had returned the rights to the Crohn's disease drug and that Celltech had begun discussions with companies specialising in the gastrointestinal field.

He said that he expected to sign up a licencing partner on more favourable terms than with Bayer. "Septic shock was first, second and third on Bayer's list of priorities. Bayer had only agreed to develop the Crohn's drug on condition that the sepsis drug worked."

Dr Fellner said that pivotal trial data on the group's leukaemia drug being developed with American Home Products was expected this year.

The group said that the value would also come from other more early stage drugs including a new approach to the treatment of asthma. Dr Fellner said that the group had five or six years cash left at current burn rates. He added that the septic shock episode validated the group's strategy. "You can't run a pure biotech with low risk products and we do have high risk and innovative drugs. But we try to balance that with a low risk financial strategy, by having major partners who take on the costs of research."

Results for the six months to 31 March, announced yesterday, showed that the group had pounds 41m cash. Underlying losses rose from pounds 5m to pounds 5.9m after research costs climbed pounds 1.5m higher to pounds 10m.

The group's shares, which were over 600p before last week's announcement, firmed 4.5p to 338.5p.