Novozymes quenches biopharma thirst down under

By Gregory Roumeliotis

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cell culture, Biotechnology

Industrial enzyme maker Novozymes is seeking to strengthen its
presence in the biopharmaceutical market by offering to acquire
Australian biotechnology firm Gropep for AUD83.6m (€49.6m), eager
to become a supplier of recombinant ingredients for the
biopharmaceutical industry.

The Danish company, which has 30 years of experience in recombinant microbial fermentation, sees Gropep, which makes growth factor supplements, as a good fit with its technology platform.

Gropep's ingredients are used in the production of recombinant proteins, monoclonal antibodies, vaccines and gene therapy vectors and can be found in eight approved biopharmaceuticals, the company says.

The fact that, unlike many Australian biotechs, Gropep is profitable did not of course escape Novozymes; in its annual financial results released last week, the Adelaide-based firm saw its pre-tax profit jump 48 per cent to AUD4m.

The positive reception that the takeover bid has received from Gropep's board of directors may therefore be down to many shareholders believing less jubilant times lie ahead, since the company has said that, because of its reliance on one undisclosed blockbuster biologic for the majority of its revenue, there is considerable uncertainty regarding its cell culture products as sales of the drug begin to slow down.

"Based on market research, we identified Gropep as a great opportunity, we will use our expertise to take their projects forward,"​ Novozymes CEO Steen Riisgaard told

"In the industrial enzymes and microorganisms sector we now occupy 45 per cent of the global market, growing organically at 8 to 9 per cent annually, so we want to use some of our capital to expand further in biopharma."

Novozymes already has a plant in Lund, Sweden, which it uses to offer microbial fermentation and purification of biological compounds for the pharmaceutical and biotech industry.

Last June the company bought Delta Biotechnology from sanofi-aventis, adding to its portfolio recombinant human albumin (Recombumin), the world's first and only animal-free alternative to human serum albumin (HSA), used in the formulation of vaccines.

If Gropep's acquisition goes ahead, Novozymes will also be able to boast ownership of Long-R3-IGF, the only recombinant IGF-1 growth factor for cell culture ingredients on the market, accounting for the bulk of Gropep's sales.

Cell culture techniques have been applied in production systems for at least 25 years, using a basal medium containing a source of nutrients such as glucose and amino acids, essential minerals, growth factors, proteins, such as albumin and transferring, and a range of other agents specific to particular cell types.

Sigma-Aldrich's SAFC Biosciences unit started distributing Gropep's Long-R3-IGF as an effective, consistent alternative to insulin for cell culture last April.

The company claims supplementation of mammalian cell cultures with Long-R3-IGF at a much lower concentration results in equivalent or better productivity than supplementation with high concentrations of insulin.

Last year Long-R3-IGF brought in sales of AUD12.7m and was therefore responsible for the majority of Gropep's revenues.

To ensure enough capacity for the next five years, Gropep recently completed the final equipment qualification of an upgrade of its manufacturing facility in Thebarton where cell culture products are made.

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