Small Talk: Spin-offs may offer silver lining in sad saga of Pfizer site

The pharmaceutical sector suffered a blow this week when the US drug maker Pfizer announced the closure of its research and development site at Sandwich in Kent, putting around 2,400 jobs at risk.

The site, which has been in the Pfizer fold for more than half a century, has had some notable success, including the development of Viagra, the company's successful impotence drug. It was also behind the Norvasc heart drug, and Celsentri, the HIV/Aids treatment.

The closure was lamented by politicians and scientists alike. Days afterwards, GlaxoSmithKline signalled that while it was not interested in the physical site, it may well be keen on some of the skilled scientists at work in Sandwich. "And, of course, we'd be interested in great ideas if there are those there to be spun out," GSK chief executive Andrew Witty said.

So, what are the prospects for a new crop of small businesses to emerge from this sad move?

Though hard to gauge, it may be worth looking at the fate of AstraZeneca's research centre in Charnwood, Leicestershire. It was earmarked for closure last year, and is set to shut down by the end of 2011. And although it has been less than 12 months since the announcement, the Charnwood closure has already given birth to a handful of small businesses.

Along the way, some were helped by BioCity Nottingham, which provides support in the form of finance, labs and office space to the skilled professionals left in the lurch by Astra's decision.

Take Sarah Hill, a clinical researcher at the Charnwood site. Soon after the closure was announced, she accepted BioCity's offer to take part in a short entrepreneurship course, receiving business advice and early guidance from experts. Less than a year on, after taking part in mentoring sessions at BioCity, attending seminars and networking events, she is gearing up to launch her own company, Genios, with co-founder Rachel Taylor.

In addition to Sarah and Rachel, Genios, which will specialise in the management and support of exploratory clinical studies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector, plans to recruit two staff members in the first year.

Of course, setting out on your own presents its own challenges. But Nigel Gaymond, the chief executive of the Bioindustry Association, said that while it was not easy to go from working in a large organisation to setting up shop on your own, "it can be done and it has been done".

The cultural shift was usually one of the biggest challenges, he said. "Some people relish it and adapt to it. If you've worked in a big organisation you are in bureaucracy ... you are used to having quite a lot of support structures. That is a cultural issue that people face," he said.

Some help is at hand, however. After assisting the professionals at Charnwood, BioCity said it will be offering Pfizer employees thinking about starting their own business places on its Bio-Entrepreneur School this year. It will also be extending an offer of free office and lab space for up to 12 months to help them get their new post-Pfizer ventures off the ground.



Finncap improves Hemscott ranking

Take a bow Finncap, the broker that jumped into second place in the latest release of Hemscott's quarterly rankings of Alternative Investment Market advisers.

The first-quarter figures, based on data up to 10 January, also show that Finncap's haul included three new clients in the industrials sector, which it now leads, pipping Seymour Pierce which was knocked into joint second place after losing two clients. But Seymour Pierce needn't be disheartened; overall, it remained at the top of the table with 76 AIM clients.

Panmure Gordon also stands out. The previous set of rankings had left it out of the top 10, at 11th place with 42 clients. The latest saw it secure the number seven spot with 47 clients. Numis, with 42 clients, was in 10th place, down from number seven previously, while Arbuthnot's portfolio of 58 clients meant that it slipped from number two to fourth place in the latest league table.

Shifting the goalposts and looking at the brokers with the most AIM 100 clients, Evolution Securities tops the table with 11, while Mirabaud comes second with nine. Both held their positions, while Cenkos Securities moved up from fourth place to third.

Oriel Securities went the other way, edging lower from second to end up joint third alongside Cenkos.

Further down the table, Liberum Capital enjoyed a jump from 10th place to number five with seven clients. The number eight spot was especially crowded, with no less than four brokers – Ambrian Partners, JP Morgan Cazenove, Numis and Panmure – sharing the mantle.

Turning to the nominated adviser rankings, Seymour Pierce once again leads the field with a roster of 78 clients. Cenkos took the second spot, while Finncap was in fourth place once again. Grant Thornton was in eighth place in the list of nominated advisers, but at the number one spot in the table of AIM auditors with a massive haul of 186 clients. Congratulations to all.



Drug setback hits Antisoma's shares

It was a bad week for Antisoma. Just how bad is evident from the painful slide in the biotech firm's share price.

After spending most of January bouncing around the 6p mark, it endured a dramatic slump to 2.2p at the end of the month. On Friday, it ended the session at 2.4p, down 63.6 per cent since the start of the year.

The sell-off was triggered by news that Antisoma's leukaemia drug, AS1413, had failed in a final stage trial. And that was only part of the story, with the company saying it had also stopped development of another cancer treatment.

The latter was halted after early data from a penultimate stage trial suggested that the result was likely to be inconclusive.

Ouch. Investors must be reeling, not least because of the fact that the setbacks come less than a year after Antisoma's ASA404 lung cancer treatment, which was being developed with Novartis, and which was seen as a major drug hope for the biotech firm, failed in a late-stage trial in March.

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