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Rockville biotech Emergent outlines plans for acquisitions and growth

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Rockville biotechnology firm Emergent BioSolutions plans to expand its product portfolio, and in turn, add to its bottom line in the next two years by purchasing drugs that other companies have already developed, executives said.

That’s the cornerstone of an ambitious growth strategy outlined this month by chief executive Daniel Abdun-Nabi that aims to have the company generating more than $500 million in revenue by 2015.

“We are looking to try to complete those acquisitions in the near term so we can get this plan under way,” he said in an interview.

Abdun-Nabi was promoted to Emergent’s top spot in April after founder Fuad El-Hibri retired. Total revenue last year was $273.4 million, a dip from $286.2 million in 2010.

Emergent’s big moneymaker to date has been an anthrax vaccine called BioThrax that the federal government buys and keeps on hand in the event of an attack. BioThrax has been lucrative for the company, but also has a limited market of prospective buyers.

“We are looking to expand revenue through the acquisition of products that can immediately contribute to the top end of the bottom line,” he said.

The company already has some acquisitions in mind, Abdun-Nabi said, but continues to evaluate other opportunities.

Acquisitions have become a fixture in the biotechnology sector. Large pharmaceutical companies have curtailed their own scientific research and development, forcing them to buy smaller companies’ drugs in order to pad their portfolios.

As a result, there can often be several buyers eyeing a single acquisition target. They also may have to pay higher prices to get a deal done. Locally, GlaxoSmithKline had to up its bid for Rockville-based Human Genome Sciences in order to finalize a contentious buyout this summer.

“There is a competitive market out there for products that are revenue generators, particularly if they are profitable,” Abdun-Nabi said.

Looking for the right
‘value proposition’

Emergent doesn’t have the revenue to compete with big pharmaceutical companies on price, he said. So the firm will target companies with products that generate less money and appeal to a very specific customer, such as the government or specialized hospitals and medical clinics.

“The way we look at these opportunities is they tend to be a bit smaller than what large-cap pharma would be interested in acquiring, and we think the value proposition we bring is greater,” he said.

For example, Emergent already employs a small sales force that’s familiar with the government procurement process. That’s an advantage over firms with no existing government business, he said.

“The niche marketing that we have is not something they may be willing to spend the time and money to develop,” Abdun-Nabi added.

Emergent has promising drug and vaccine candidates of its own. Abdun-Nabi is particularly bullish on the prospects for a tuberculosis vaccine and leukemia treatment currently in clinical trials. But those products still need the approval of federal regulators and would not come to market for at least several years.

What’s more, the company’s primary customer to date, the federal government, has its own budgetary issues. The pending “fiscal cliff” and calls to reduce spending will likely mean fewer dollars being spent on defense in coming years.

Still, Abdun-Nabi remains confident that leaders won’t stop funding the purchase of the company’s anthrax vaccine because the risks of being unprepared for a potential biological attack are too severe.

“My experience and belief is that products such as BioThrax and other critical countermeasures for the national stockpile continue to be a priority for Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress,” Abdun-Nabi said.

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