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Is consolidation the new theme in China’s fragmented CRO sector? Over the past five to ten years, an almost bewildering array of new CROs has sprung into existence. Many of them have teamed up with others to provide a broader level of services. But last week, in a surprise announcement, PPD, Inc. (NSDQ: PPDI), a worldwide $2.6 billion CRO with headquarters in the US, announced it has reached an agreement to acquire Excel PharmaStudies (see story).

Excel is a China-based CRO specializing in Phase II-IV clinical trials. Founded in 2000, the company has offices in 15 China cities and over 300 employees. It has worked with more than 120 pharmas and biotech companies. PPD said the purchase will add capacity and expertise in China, while also increasing its employee count and client base in the Asia Pacific region. Unfortunately, financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. The question now becomes whether this transaction is a one-off or the harbinger of a trend toward consolidation, a trend that results in larger, more dominant CRO enterprises.

On a quite different front, China life science showed that IPOs have regained their luster. The Shenzhen Growth Market, now called ChiNext, opened for its first day of business on Friday of this week, and Anhui Anke Biotechnology (Group) Co Ltd. (300009) was the star performer, nearly tripling in value in its first day of open market trading (see story). Altogether, 28 medium and small-sized China companies listed on the exchange and each of the 28 did well in the first day. In fact, at one point, each individual company was up at least 45%. However, Anhui Anke was the standout performer closing with a 195% first-day gain.

There were two joint venture deals announced during the last week. Tianyin Pharma (NYSEMKT:TPI) formed a JV with Sichuan Mingxin Pharmaceutical Co. to produce macrolide antibiotics (azithromycin, clarithromycin and roxithromycin were mentioned) (see story). Tianyin will own 77% of the JV, which will be known as Sichuan Jiangchuan Pharmaceutical Co. Although Tianyin was historically focused on TCM products, it received its first SFDA approval for an antibiotic, Azithromycin Dispersible Tablets, in 2008.

Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY) signed a letter of intent to establish a JV with Minsheng Pharmaceutical Group of Hangzhou (see story). The JV will focus on OTC vitamin and mineral products. Minsheng already produces the best selling product in the sector: 21-Super Vita multivitamin-multimineral tablets. For Sanofi-Aventis, the JV will provide an entry into China’s OTC market. Sanofi-Aventis will own the majority share in the new business.

China Medicine Corporation (OTCPK:CHME) announced it acquired Guangzhou LifeTech Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd., a producer of pharmaceuticals products and TCMs (see story). The price was 57 million RMB ($8.3 million) in cash plus the assumption of 89.8 million RMB ($13.2 million) in debt. China Medicine appraised LifeTech’s assets at 174 million RMB ($25.6 million), including manufacturing facilities and a portfolio of 39 TCM and Western medicine products.

Simcere Pharmaceutical Group (NYSE: SCR), a China company that makes branded generic and proprietary pharmaceuticals, now controls a majority 50.77% of its vaccine subsidiary, Jiangsu Yanshen Biological Technology Stock Co. (see story). Simcere bought its original 37.5% stake in Jiangsu Yanshen in May 2009. Jiangsu Yanshen has received orders for 6.3 million doses of its H1N1 flu vaccine from China's government.

Chi-Med ((AIM: CHM)) struck a deal to buy the remaining 15% of outside ownership in its Hutchison Healthcare Limited joint venture, one of the three JVs that comprise Chi-Med's China Healthcare Division (see story). The transaction was not a major one: Chi-Med will pay just 4.2 million RMB ($.6 million) to bring HHL entirely in-house.

Mycenax Biotech of Taiwan (GreTai: 4726), a protein drug development company, reported clinical trial progress on a biosimilar drug (see story). TuNEX is a biosimilar version of etanercept, a rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis treatment. The drug successfully completed a Phase I trial in South Korea and a Phase I/II trial in Taiwan. Etanercept is a TNF inhibitor marketed as Enbrel by Amgen (NSDQ: AMGN) and Wyeth (NYSE: WYE) and in Japan by Takeda Pharma.

Sinovac Biotech (NASDAQ:SVA) received a very large order for 5.2 million doses of its H1N1 vaccine, Panflu.1 (see story). This is the third order Sinovac has received from various official China agencies, bringing the total to 11.5 million doses. Regarding a separate program, Sinovac also said it won the bidding process to supply its seasonal flu vaccine, Anflu, to the Shanghai government.

Medicilon/MPI Preclinical Research-Shanghai received accreditation for its preclinical testing facility from the International Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care ((AAALAC)) (see story). The company said the accreditation validates its commitment to quality for its facility. Formed two years ago, Medicilon/MPI held a Grand Opening in October of 2008 of its 50,000 square foot facility in Shanghai's Chuansa Science Park.

Disclosure: none.

Source: China Biotech Week in Review: Is CRO Consolidation a New Theme?