Killer virus tamed by Acambis


Cambridge biotech company Acambis has come up with a vaccine to beat the killer West Nile virus.

West Nile, as well as being fatal to humans, is better known for having decimated the bird population of New York, and killed horses in Europe.

Acambis, previously called Peptide Therapeutics, won a $3 million grant last August to develop a vaccine against the virus.

Dr John Brown, Acambis boss, said yesterday: 'We have got our vaccine and safety testing is now being completed.'

He added that formal news of the vaccine would probably be announced shortly.

The company is also progressing with its $450 million contract (the largest ever in the sector) to develop a new vaccine against smallpox.

'We are on track with this vaccine and delighted with the way things are going,' Dr Brown said.

Both contracts have come from the U.S., where Acambis now employs 90 people; a further 50 work in Cambridge at the Fulbourn Road headquarters.

The good news comes after a long period of uncertainty for the company: '2000 was a very uncertain year,' Dr Brown said, 'but since September we have all felt very confident about the future here, with an exciting R&D pipeline, underpinned by long-term contracts.'

It was in September that U.S. giant, Baxter, announced it would be taking a 20 per cent stake in the company and signing a long-term manufacturing agreement.

The move came after months of possible merger discussions with Cantab and the Peptide share price dropping as low as 38p.

It has now risen to 1.34 and analysts are suggesting a price of 3.30.

At the weekend the company was put in the same basket as Celltech and Cambridge Antibody Technology, both big stars in the sector, and has been tipped as a 'buy'.

There is also the suggestion that Baxter may take over the company in due course.

Dr Brown added: 'We only see things going one way from here.'