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Danish drug maker Santaris considers U.S. listing: investor

By Teis Jensen and Ole Mikkelsen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish venture capital firm Sunstone is considering whether to list its partly owned biotech company Santaris Pharma in the United States, and will probably make a decision this year, Sunstone told Reuters on Wednesday.

Santaris, which was founded through a merger of two companies in 2003, develops drugs against liver cancer, head and neck cancer, and against metabolic and infectious diseases.

In 2006, Sunstone was the lead investor in a 45 million euro ($62.00 million) venture investment in Santaris and is now the main owner with a 24.8 percent stake, around twice as much as the next two owners, pension fund LD and industrial foundation Novo A/S.

Claus Andersson, partner in Sunstone and deputy chairman of Santaris' board, said an initial public offering (IPO) has not been decided on, but that it is one of the options being considered.

"If we are going to launch an IPO we would probably have to take the decision this year," Andersson said. "And so we can execute it in the 6-9 months it usually takes to launch an IPO."

He declined to indicate a size of a possible IPO, but said the timing is important as investors at some point will have exhausted the funds dedicated to life science investments.

"There have been a number of IPOs in the U.S. and now the investors are waiting for the shares to rise," he said. "We are hoping that some of the listings in the U.S. could show investors that life science is reasonable to invest in."

Andersson said Sunstone would prefer to list Santaris in the U.S. because the firm considers analyst coverage of biotech companies to be more in depth, consistent and frequent there than in Europe.

Santaris hired U.S. biotech entrepreneur J. Donald deBethizy as its chief executive in January this year, and established a branch in San Diego, California in 2009.

Andersson said Santaris is not in immediate need of funding as it recently struck a deal with Swiss pharma giant Roche, which secured funding for its research beyond the end of 2014.

Other partners include Bristol Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline Plc, and since 2007 the firm has generated income of $160 million from these and other firms, Chief Financial Officer Henrik Stage said.

Last year the company entered into six new agreements and generated almost $40 million in partner revenues.

Sunstone, the private equity investor, was also involved in the U.S. listing of Danish biotech firm Egalet in February, which saw its shares surge 65 percent in its first five weeks of trading before losing about half its accumulated gains. ($1 = 5.4180 Danish Crowns) ($1 = 0.7258 Euros)

(Additional reporting by Shida Chayesteh, editing by Terje Solsvik)

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