Acambis warns of delay in US contract

Acambis, the biotech group whose fortunes were transformed by orders for a smallpox vaccine, admitted yesterday that it has suffered delays to its flagship contract to supply the US government.

The disappointment overshadowed news that the company has signed two more contracts with countries concerned about the threat of a bioterrorist attack.

Some £25m of revenue that had been expected to come through before Christmas will now be delayed into next year, after Acambis found itself unable to carry out the necessary testing on batches of the smallpox vaccine, which is made from cowpox.

John Brown, the chief executive, said: "We had a shortage of a chemical agent used in the testing, so we had the product backed up waiting to be tested. The revenue of $428m [£273m] from the contract is staying the same, the margins are staying the same, but some of the money that we said would come in during the fourth quarter of this year will now come in during the first quarter of next year."

The news sent Acambis shares down more than 10 per cent in early trading, but they recovered to close off only 4 per cent at 250.5p as analysts maintained their bullish stance. Nomura had been forecasting a maiden profit of £8.1m for 2002, and while that has now been reduced to £1.6m, the 2003 profit figure has grown from £27.7m to £36.1m.

Mr Brown refused to identify the two countries who have signed contracts for the supply of smallpox vaccine, but said they would be "small in comparison" with the US deal. Analysts expect revenues will be in "single-figure millions" of dollars.

A third country, Austria, has signalled its intention to buy smallpox vaccine from Acambis, but it is yet to sign a deal.

The US had a small supply deal with Acambis which it expanded after 11 September last year as fears grew that terrorists could use smallpox as a biological weapon. It is now buying 209 million doses, enough to inoculate every citizen.