Currently the firm only conducts contract work up to Phase III in its viral vaccine business, however, at the beginning of the year the UK firm entered into a manufacturing development agreement with GenVec, involving its lead product candidate TNFerade, that could lead the firm beyond this for the first time. At its facility in Oxford, UK, Cobra is undertaking the scale-up and validation of the manufacturing process for the biologic compound, which is being developed as a potential treatment for pancreatic cancer. The current agreement is to take the product as far as Phase III however, Simon Saxby, the new chief operating officer (COO) of Cobra told Outsourcing-Pharma.com in a recent interview that it is hoped that a commercial manufacturing agreement will follw from this within the next two years. Saxby explained that the firm has been making some modifications to its Oxford facility in order to bring it up to commercial manufacturing standard and has already been able to satisfy GenVec that its quality systems meet the requirements for the purpose. Moreover, because viral products are so potent, the company already has the scale required to make commercial quantities. "The GenVec partnership is moving us towards the commercial manufacturing of bioloics and could be our first commerial manufacturing deal in this area," said Saxby. "If all goes well, Cobra could become one of the very few companies who can produce viral vaccines on a commercial scale." Saxby added that he expects that the company's current work experience with GenVec will open the door to more business in the viral area. Meanwhile, the company is also eyeing new opportunities for commercial manufacturing in its larger business unit, protein manufacturing. Currently the firm only conducts contract work for proteins from the preclinical stage up to Phase II but there are plans in place to grow this to Phase III and eventually commercial scale also. "The protein market is big and still growing and there is still an opportunity for doing business in this area," said Saxby. "There is a much bigger market potential for commercial manufacturing than research and development." It is "yet to be determined" as to how Cobra will achieve this, although Saxby said that the firm is exploring its options - to either build, acquire or partner - to gain the new capacity, and the intended timeframe to achieve this is over the next 12 to 18 months. "The quickest route would obviously be through some type of strategic partnership or acquisition," he added. French moves Meanwhile, Cobra recently received recognition from the French Ministry for Higher Education and Research as an approved research and development service provider. This allows French companies, which outsource research and development work to Cobra, to be able to benefit from the research and development tax credit (Le Crédit d'Impôt Recherche (CIR). The approval was granted for 2007-2009 and is capped at 16m euros per company per year. "Cobra is already an active player in the French market, and this development will further improve our offering to customers," said Saxby. "We believe it will help significantly in generating new business in France where there is an active biotechnology industry... We hope to grow there by 10-15 per cent over the next year." Meanwhile, in light of expected business growth over the entire business, Saxby indicated that Cobra is also planning to add a significant number of new staff over the next 12 to 18 months.