Ambri boss adds perspective to US partner's decision

By Helen Schuller
Monday, 06 February, 2006

Sydney biosensor specialist Ambri (ASX:ABI) appeared to hit a setback last week, when the company announced that its US partner would no longer work to develop Ambri's ion-channel switch (ICS).

Biosensor Enterprises (BEL) said it would instead focus on out-licensing the technology. But this week Ambri CEO and managing director Roman Zwolenski was keen to put BEL's decision into perspective.

"What has not been understood is that BEL have always been about sub-licensing to someone else -- doing research work on the basic membrane which is complementary to Ambri's research work," said Zwolenski. "[BEL] is not a producer of product -- they were improving the technology and concentrating on getting shelf life up to storing at room temperature, which is fundamental to the markets they license, whereas we are looking at products based on storage in the refrigerator."

BEL, a joint venture between Dow Corning Corporation and Genencor International, also announced that it had been in negotiations with a "significant" US-based party which had expressed early interest in sub-licensing BEL's rights to the ICS technology for a particular market segment in which it already had diagnostic products.

"We are delighted that there is a party interested," said Zwolenski. "BEL has made the contact and is advancing the negotiations. It is a sub-license from BEL and we benefit clearly from any sub-license they may orchestrate. It is a company that does make product and is knowledgeable in the product -- we know the company but can't say any more about it at this stage."

Back to Dow

Ambri also announced last week that Dave Cornelius would step down from the Ambri board. "Dave is a very senior executive of Dow Corning with a large portfolio of responsibilities -- after several years of being involved [with Ambri], it is probably a normal course to attend to other corporate matters," said Zwolenski.

Commercial partners and merger or acquisition targets were key to Ambri's outlook for 2006 and beyond, said Zwolenski, an industry veteran whose career has included six years as CEO of Agen (now Agenix -- ASX:AGN) and a distinguished stint at Roche's diagnostics group in Australia, the UK and Switzerland.

"We have a technical program that is reaching a stage of where to go to the next level with a silicon chip," he said. "We will use it to find a commercial partner and to decide what we will do in going forward with that program.

"We are reaching the next level. We are involved with discussions to merge or acquire someone -- we have been hurting in share price a little and this is our plan to give us a shorter-term uplift. We have in excess of $8 million in the bank. We have a solid little company with technical as well as commercial benefits, that we are looking at leveraging."

Chatswood facility

Ambri, which has reduced its headcount in recent years, is also inviting other biotech companies an opportunity to share space at its Chatswood facility, Zwolenski said.

"We have been thinking about offering our facility as a shared space for some time," he said. "Maintaining such a high-standard facility is not an insignificant cost. We can see that our set up could easily be utilised on a shared cost basis with another R&D oriented enterprise. It is a high-quality facility with R&D equipment for organic chemistry, biochemistry, assay development and engineering device development."

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