LONGMONT — In a move that seemed to take investors and analysts by surprise, NaPro BioTherapeutics has announced plans to sell its worldwide paclitaxel business.
The announcement comes only months after the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the company approval to sell the drug — a generic, injectable version of the cancer drug Taxol — in the United States.
NaPro’s chief executive officer called the decision a “much larger, long-term opportunity for NaPro shareholders.”
The company is selling its paclitaxel business to concentrate on the development and marketing of its gene-therapy products. In concert with those plans, three months ago NaPro announced the purchase of the genomics business of California-based Pangene Corp.
In a conference call with investors, Leonard Shaykin, NaPro’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the sale “should accelerate the development of these therapeutic programs.”
During a question-and-answer session following his remarks, some of the questioners seemed skeptical of the company’s plan to abandon its signature product.
It was May of last year when NaPro received permission to sell paclitaxel in the United States. The company began developing the drug in the early ’90s and received its first approval for the drug in 1995, in Australia.
Last year, paclitaxel generated $34.2 million in sales and $10.2 million in gross profits for the company, compared with sales of $15.7 million the previous year.
Included in the paclitaxel sale will be the retirement of $20 million of debt to Abbott Laboratories, which collaborated with NaPro to bring paclitaxel to market in the United States.
Shaykin said he and his board members decided that selling the paclitaxel business and focusing on gene therapy “is the best way to increase shareholder value going forward.”
He said NaPro has “two distinct therapeutic technologies,” one focusing on oncology — the treatment of tumors — and the other focusing on hereditary diseases, such as sickle cell anemia.
“(One)Boulder facility is all the work we’re doing in the oncology area,” said L. Robert Cohen, NaPro’s vice president of investor relations. This work will continue, he said, but the paclitaxel manufacturing operations in Boulder would be included as part of the sale.
NaPro has three facilities in Boulder, as well as one each in New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Shaykin did not announce a time frame for the sale, but did say he hoped it would be completed by the end of the year.
Shaykin also said by end of 2003 the company would be down to “60 to 70 full-time equivalents” — assuming the paclitaxel sale goes through — down from about 195 employees at this time last year. He also said no employee bonuses or stock options were given in 2002, and some senior-level executive positions have been part of the job cutting.
NaPro is also continuing to shed space, contingent on the paclitaxel sale. Shaykin said by the end of this year, NaPro will have reduced its total space by 60 percent and reduced the space it was leasing by 90 percent.
In 2001, NaPro bought five acres of land in the Clover Basin section of Longmont, with an option on purchasing additional, adjacent land. At the time, company officials said they were buying the land with the intent of someday building a Longmont campus to consolidate the company’s operations.
Cohen said this week the company would continue to hold onto the land “for investment purposes.”
During the conference call Shaykin also said the company would no longer be providing future guidance for its investors. “All of our past guidance to shareholders has been met ... ” he said, adding that because the company’s therapeutic product candidates are all in the preclinical stage, “anticipating and projecting quarterly results does not seem warranted,” he said.
Last year, NaPro reported a net loss of $8.7 million, compared with a net loss of $25.8 million in 2001.
NaPro also announced last week that it has sold its technical and analytical services group to privately held ChromaDex Inc. Terms of the sale were not announced; however, approximately 20 NaPro researchers will move to ChromaDex in the transaction, along with specific physical and real estate assets in Boulder. Also, NaPro will become a “significant” shareholder of ChromaDex.
Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at