Intercell mulls London float after vaccine breakthrough

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The Independent Online

Intercell, an Austrian vaccines developer, is considering a London flotation after making progress with its jab to protect travellers from Japanese encephalitis.

US regulators have approved plans for a final stage of human trials for the new vaccine, which allows Intercell to re-establish a lead in its race with Acambis, the Cambridge-based vaccines company, to launch a product.

Intercell is believed to be close to signing an investment bank to handle the flotation, with Goldman Sachs the current front runner. It will choose in the coming months whether to list in London, Vienna or Switzerland with a valuation that fund managers said could be up to £100m.

Specialists in the sector hope that 2005 could be a more successful one for biotech fund raising than was 2004, which saw several high-profile flotations pulled. Investors in the largest, Ark Therapeutics last February, have lost a third of their money.

The Vienna-based Intercell, which also has a manufacturing plant in Livingston, near Edinburgh, has two products in human trials, a jab against hepatitis C and the more advanced Japanese encephalitis vaccine. The latter will start a 3,000-person safety trial within weeks, after approval from the US Food & Drug Administration, Intercell will say today. Gerd Zettlmeissl, the chief operating officer, said: "This underlines our determination to achieve a rapid completion of the late stage clinical trials to launch the vaccine into the US market in 2007."

Japanese encephalitis can cause swelling in the brain. It is carried by mosquitos in South-east Asia and the Western Pacific.

Intercell's product had appeared stalled in the second phase of human trials, allowing Acambis to catch up, but today's announcement shows the Austrian company re-establishing its lead. Acambis, which plans to start its own Phase III trials this year, says its product, a single jab as opposed to Intercell's two-injection course, will be superior.

Other companies which could float this year include two which pulled their plans in 2004, Microscience and Cyclacel.

Also slated for flotation if conditions improve is the Scottish biotech group ProStrakan. It is a specialist in women's healthcare and has been building a European sales infrastructure through acquisition. Today, ProStrakan will say Peter Allen, formerly chief financial officer of Celltech - the UK's biggest biotech group, taken over last year - is joining the board as a non-executive director.