In the news: PowderJect

May 16, 2003

An Oxford University spin-off this week claimed to be the first UK biotech start-up to pay a dividend to shareholders.

PowderJect Pharmaceuticals announced its second year in profit. Revenues have risen by 40 per cent over the past year. The vaccine company also said it was negotiating a possible takeover (press reports have linked it to US group Chiron).

PowderJect grew from an idea by Brian Bellhouse in Oxford University's engineering department. He discovered that a supersonic blast of helium could be used to inject drugs or DNA vaccines into the skin painlessly without using needles. In 1993, he founded PowderJect with his daughter Elspeth, who married business co-founder Paul Drayson.

Professor Bellhouse is now a non-executive director of the company. He continues his academic research in the medical engineering unit he set up in 1968.

The company, which has benefited from a close relationship with pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline, floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1997.

Last year, the company courted controversy when, having secured a £32 million contract to supply the UK government with smallpox jabs, chief executive Mr Drayson was revealed as a Labour donor.

PowderJect, which employs 1,000 people, is based in Oxford but runs operations elsewhere in Europe and the US. Last year, its turnover was £160 million, with profits of £23.5 million. This was boosted by record sales of the flu vaccine Fluvirin and huge rises in orders for its yellow fever and travellers' diarrhoea/cholera vaccines.

Oxford has a successful history of spin-offs. The first was Oxford University Press, which brings the university at least £9 million a year. The university declined the offer of shares in the second spin-off, Oxford Instruments, when it floated in 1959. However, it holds 2 per cent of PowderJect's £91.5 million share capital, which will bring it a dividend of £50,000.

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