Celsis joins Wellcome in research contract: Company unveils device to revolutionise laboratory work

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The Independent Online
CELSIS International, the biotechnology company that sacked its chief executive last month, yesterday announced a new contract with Wellcome, the pharmaceuticals group, and unveiled a new product that enables rapid counting of microbe colonies.

Although the Wellcome research project is initially worth only pounds 30,000, Celsis regards such collaborations as important opportunities to prove the value of its technology to potential customers.

Celsis's 'biokits' enable much faster testing for the presence of microbial contaminants than is possible with the century-old method that uses agar plates. The company will carry out tests at Wellcome's production facilities to see whether its technology can substantially cut the time taken on hygiene monitoring.

Although Celsis hopes its devices will eventually supercede agar plates, it recognises the traditional method of testing will remain dominant for years to come.

Celsis's colony counter, which costs pounds 7,000- pounds 8,000, produces a result in seconds. Peter Grant, technical director, said the counter would allow microbiologists to assess 200 or more plates an hour instead of perhaps 20. Celsis said rival machines were less sophisticated and twice as expensive.

The counter is a recent development, not envisaged when Celsis came to market last July. 'Each product is either on schedule or ahead of schedule,' said Dr Grant.

John Precious, Celsis chairman and also finance director of Wellcome, said the company had 'over-delivered' on the promises made at its flotation. In an upbeat presentation, he said Celsis had exciting products and prospects.

Celsis challenged the impression that agar testing was cheap. Chris Evans, a Celsis founder director, said although the plastic plates were inexpensive, the associated laboratory costs meant the true cost was nearer pounds 40 per plate. Celsis believes the microbial testing market is worth pounds 3bn- pounds 10bn a year.

Celsis is still seeking to replace Tony Martin, who it branded as ineffectual when sacking him last month. Celsis is negotiating with Dr Martin, who has a share stake worth about pounds 1.8m at yesterday's closing price of 91p, up 4p.

The company reported a pre-tax loss of pounds 1.6m in the year to end- March 1994. This reflected a trebling of research and development costs to pounds 984,000. Sales of biokits increased by 46 per cent to pounds 172,000, out of total turnover of pounds 274,000.