'Low risk' drugs research firm aims for a pounds 35m float: Chiroscience intends to keep lead in molecular technology

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CHIROSCIENCE, the latest loss- making drug research company to seek a stock market flotation, claims to combine a low-risk strategy with the prospect of potentially huge rewards.

Whereas biotechnology companies are typically seeking treatments for a handful of diseases, Chiroscience believes it can apply its expertise to an extensive range of medicines (see opposite). Chris Evans, chief scientific officer, said: 'We are the only independent company totally focused on chiral pharmaceuticals, a developing dollars 100bn sector.'

The company is seeking to fund its expanding research programme by raising about pounds 35m through a placing and offer for sale. It expects to be valued at pounds 100m when share dealings begin next month.

Chemical compounds are said to display chirality when molecules of the same atoms can be combined in two or more different ways. These isomers often differ in their medical properties, with one being responsible for the therapeutic benefit while the other is inactive or the cause of side-effects. One example is Thalidomide, the drug that caused many to be born with deformities.

Chiroscience has more than 20 technologies that allow it to isolate single isomers to develop improved versions of existing drugs and to create new drugs. It believes its approach will lead to much faster regulatory approval than is usual with traditional drugs.

The importance of synthetic single isomer drugs is growing rapidly, and PA Consulting forecasts they will account for about a third of the total market by 2000.

Although the large pharmaceutical companies have started to invest heavily in chirotechnology, Dr Evans said: 'We still have a four or five-year lead on anyone. Spending pounds 500m today won't buy you what we have in Cambridge.'

Chiroscience also makes intermediate 'building block' compounds for groups such as Glaxo, Smith Kline Beecham and Wellcome. With this contribution, sales are expected to grow from pounds 1.6m in the year to last February to pounds 100m in five years. The company hopes to be into profit before 2000.