AFT Pharmaceuticals mulls NZX listing as Milford, US investor take 10% stake

Hartley Atkinson

Privately held drugs developer and reseller AFT Pharmaceuticals is contemplating a listing on the NZX, having attracted a 10.6 percent equity investment from a US specialist healthcare investment fund and Auckland-based Milford Asset Management.

Companies Office records show Capital Royalty, with headquarters in Houston, Texas, has taken a 7.58 percent stake in Auckland-based AFT, leaving a 3.03 percent stake taken by Milford's Active Growth Fund, for an all-up initial equity injection of US$14 million.

Capital Royalty is also offering up to US$30 million in a six year structured loan facility, which is the fund's normal method of investment. Its decision to inject equity was a departure from the norm and an indication of the potential it sees for the New Zealand company to ramp sales into the Australian and Asian markets, Milford's Brook Bone told BusinessDesk.

Today's statement gave no indication of possible timing for an NZX float for AFT, which has grown from a business established in 1997 in the garage of its founder and until now 100 percent shareholder, Hartley Atkinson, to turnover of $66 million in the last financial year.

AFT is targeting sales of $80 million this year. While perhaps its best-known product in New Zealand is the heavily promoted pain-killer Maxigesic, which combines paracetamol and ibuprofen in what the company says is a world-first medicine, it markets nearly 300 medicines to pharmacies and New Zealand hospitals.

It is launching products into Australia and licencing arrangements with some 40 countries for a range of pharmaceuticals that AFT has either developed from scratch, is producing because the drug in question is off-patent, or is marketing on behalf of other manufacturers.

"We see the Capital Royalty investment as a strong vote of support from a USA-based investment expert in the health services field," said Atkinson, in a statement. "The involvement of Milford Asset management is also a very important kiwi link which will assist AFT in its eventual plans to IPO locally."

AFT will use the proceeds of the capital-raising for "the next stages of sales and pipeline growth" and to increase research and development spending.

"When you get into the business and look at the successful products they have developed and commercialised, and see the portfolio they are currently developing and commercialising, there's a large potential for the business," said Milford's Bone.

The company showed strong ability to gain regulatory approvals for its products in multiple jurisdictions, based on the skills of "somebody who really understands the market and isn't tied up with a large, bureaucratic business unit," Bone said.

"They are showing the benefits of being small and nimble. They've got good people they can put in and get things done."

Milford found it attractive that AFT had a large portfolio of products, rather than relying on a "blockbuster", in a firm that had "all the hallmarks of being a successful listed company."

(BusinessDesk)

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