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Cangene starts year with breakthroughs

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CANGENE Corp. has started 2013 with a bang.

At the beginning of the year, it announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug called Varizig for use in high-risk patient groups such as immunocompromised children, newborns and pregnant women who have been exposed to chickenpox.

Last week, the Winnipeg biotech company acquired a hemophilia compound that is in late-stage clinical trial from a company that is under bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Then this week, it issued a press release saying it passed a major hurdle in a lengthy project to get the FDA to license its botulism antitoxin BAT.

Cangene developed BAT under a $427-million contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Francis St. Hilaire, Cangene's vice-president, general counsel and secretary, said it's good news the FDA committee voted unanimously in support of BAT's licensure but it's not a sure thing the final clearance will be achieved.

And even if it is, St. Hilaire said BAT is primarily a bioterrorism product. He said the company does not anticipate there will be extensive commercial opportunities for the drug.

"This has largely been a government market," said St. Hilaire. "I can't imagine private enterprise having lots of interest in the product. But once it gets licensed, certainly there are potentially more opportunities to sell the product beyond the U.S. government."

And while it may not lead to substantial new revenue, the BAT licensure is part of a series of accomplishments Cangene has been ticking off lately.

It's a turnaround of sorts for Cangene, whose star had been dimming for a couple of years.

Its lucrative run supplying the U.S. government with a range of anti-bioterrorism products is winding down, and the company decided to cancel its product-development program for Immune Globulin Intravenous (IGIV), an anti-infective used for a variety of indications.

But since the beginning of the year, the company's stock price has risen about 84 per cent to close at $3 with fairly heavy trading for the typically thin-traded company that's majority-owned by Apotex Inc.

"I believe the reason for the increase in the stock price is not attributable to any singular event such as yesterday's (BAT) news," said St. Hilaire. "It's really more of a reflection of an understanding by the market that Cangene is realizing on a series of strategic steps to create value for shareholders."

Last year, the company announced its intention to focus on more late-stage development projects that will increase its portfolio of products that are ready for the marketplace.

"But that's not to say we are abandoning bio-defence," St. Hilaire said. "It is certainly a significant part of what we do and we are going to continue to do it and be opportunistic in relation to the bio-defence business. We want to focus on the commercial side. We believe that's where the growth is."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 A18

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