The Investment Column: Protherics

WHEN PROTEUS and Therapeutic Antibodies, the biotechnology tiddlers, merged to form Protherics, the companies said it was to combine the long- term pipeline of one with the short-term revenue stream of the other. Oddly, the company now says it might need more cash and is on the prowl in the UK biotechnology sector.

Perhaps more oddly, this fresh predatory stance comes just as Protherics clinched a rather tasty deal with Eli Lilly, the US pharmaceuticals giant, to license its molecular design technology to develop drugs which limit blood clotting. That's a huge market, and Eli Lilly's last such deal netted $30m (pounds 19m) for for Xenova, another UK biotech.

Protherics would say only that the deal could generate licence fees of at least $5m. Eli Lilly has gagged Protherics on the financials of the deal, but the total package, including royalities, should add up to between $25m and $40m. Investors should in any case take heart that a company such as Eli Lilly has at last endorsed a Protherics product.

Elsewhere, there's less excitement in the portfolio. The group's rattlesnake bite treatment is still facing regulatory hurdles and will not be on the market ahead of the summer, when rattlesnakes come out to play. The shares barely moved on yesterday's results, which came in bang in line with forecasts. The news the group is looking for more deals is no sign of weakness now Eli Lilly has given its stamp of approval. The shares, at 45.5p, are worth a punt.

Edited by Chris Hughes

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