Biopharmaceutical company UCB has sold off its Belgian biologics contract manufacturing business to Lonza of Switzerland for 120 million euros ($145m) as it continues to divest operations outside its core focus of developing therapeutics.

Rumours of the sale first emerged last November, although Lonza, which specializes in small-molecule and biologic drugs manufacturing, had not been cited as a potential buyer. UCB-Bioproducts has around 300 employees and is located in Braine-l'Alleud just outside of Brussels. Its annual sales are estimated at around 50 million Swiss francs ($39m).

UCB has already sold off its chemicals and film products businesses since acquiring UK biotech Celltech in 2004, and the latest divestment trims it down still further to concentrate on ‘research, development, and commercialisation of therapeutic solutions for severe diseases’, according to Roch Doliveux, the company’s chief executive.

UCB-Bioproducts is the second largest manufacturer of peptides in Europe after Bachem, and ahead of PolyPeptide Laboratories, Peptisyntha and Akzo Nobel unit Diosynth, and the sale boosts Lonza’s capacity in serving the fast-growing market for therapeutic peptides.

A recent report from Frost & Sullivan suggested that the market for peptide drugs will swell by more than 10% a year from a level of around $1 billion dollars at present, with the European market doubling in size from around $300 million to more than $600 million by 2010.

With this acquisition Lonza further strengthens its position as a worldwide leader in custom peptide manufacturing," said the firm’s chief executive, Stefan Borgas, in a statement. Analysts at Sarasin said the purchase makes Lonza the biggest peptide manufacturer in the world..