Genetic engineering firm plans to clone success with listing

Super potatoes are heading for Britain. ForBio, an Australian company which genetically engineers crops to make them bigger, bug-resistant and faster- growing, will float on the London stock market this year valued at pounds 60m.

The Australian-listed company, which is the US's leading producer of super seedling potatoes and Europe's biggest supplier of plant tissue, will announce a pounds 3m private placing today to pave the way for a fundraising of up to about pounds 15m in London later this year.

Scottish-born founder and chief executive Bill Henderson, already a millionaire after his first Australian company was taken over, said: "We will never get appropriate recognition in Australia.

"No analysts follow what we do there. And valuations are higher in London."

The company specialises in genetic cloning of plants as well as genetically improved plants and trees.

"Ours are the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the plant world," said Dr Henderson.

Dr Henderson who, with co-founder Bob Teasdale, owns 40 per cent of ForBio, said he had two "serious offers" from large drug groups to buy the company over the past year, but the price was too low.

One company known to be interested is US chemical giant Monsanto, the world leader in genetically engineered crops. Monsanto, which has a joint venture with ForBio in Indonesia, has an option to buy up to 40 per cent of the company if a number of joint projects are successful.

ForBio's strategy to get partners to fund all research costs means the group is profitable, which is unusual for a biotechnology company.

In the six months to December 1996, ForBio made A$1.47m (pounds 680,000) profits on A$18m revenue, up from A$5m in the previous period.

The Brisbane-based group, which was founded six years ago, has grown fast and now employs 260 staff world-wide. Following the listing the directors will own a quarter of the company. None is selling shares.

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