Drug trials setback hits Amersham sales

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The collapse of two big trials of revolutionary "antisense" drugs has hit sales at Amersham, the FTSE 100 company which makes medical dyes and laboratory supplies for medical research.

The company disappointed analysts with news that it had lost £5m of sales in its separations division, which purifies products used in biotech drug development, as a result of setbacks for two of its major customers.

The separations division had been expected to be the star performer in a set of results that was already known to be plagued by the weakness of the dollar and the costs of restructuring the drug discovery equipment division.

Group profits were down 47 per cent to £77m in the six months to June, Amersham said. While this was lower than many forecasts, the City welcomed the company's forecast of 8 to 10 per cent underlying earnings growth for the full-year, and the shares jumped 39.5p to 490.5p - the best performance by a FTSE 100 stock yesterday.

Antisense drugs are designed to attach to a damaged portion of a patient's genetic make-up, disrupting malfunctions that have been linked to diseases such as cancer. There have been many failures by the drug companies trying to develop such products, and the latest two meant an estimated £5m of sales by Amersham were cancelled.

Sir William Castell, chief executive, said the separations business grew 10 per cent if antisense work was stripped out, and the productivity of the biotech industry gave him confidence for the second half.