Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Biotech Avalon posts $5.6M loss, cuts jobs

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Avalon Pharmaceuticals, a Germantown biotech that develops cancer treatments, is slashing its workforce by one-third, as the company lost $5.6 million in the second quarter, reducing its cash and securities to $16.7 million.

Those reserves aren't enough to fund its planned operations into next year, the company said in a statement. Following the workforce cutbacks, Avalon will have 35 employees.

"Given the difficult current funding environment, we have decided to restructure our operations in order to narrow our focus to those product development programs with the greatest potential value," said president and CEO Kenneth C. Carter. "We believe the operational changes we are making will allow us to advance our key programs as we continue seeking additional sources of capital and will position us well for success after we have raised additional funds."

OpGen moves to upcounty,

plans to double workforce

A Wisconsin biotechnology company is moving its headquarters to Gaithersburg and plans to about double its workforce to 80 employees within two years.

Privately held OpGen, a gene sequencing company that is working on new genome-mapping technology, is moving into a 15,000-square-foot space at 708 Quince Orchard Road that formerly housed biotech Gene Logic. The latter company sold its genomics assets last year and is now Ore Pharmaceuticals.

OpGen recently hired former Digene Corp. executive Larry Wellman as vice president of human resources to help beef up its workforce. Digene, formerly of Gaithersburg, was bought by Dutch biotech Qiagen for about $1.5 billion last year.

"One thing that sets us apart is that we are currently generating revenue from our technology," said Steven Easley, CFO of OpGen. "Performed in the lab, our unique pathogen identification technology was used by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] during the E. coli outbreak, allowing them to determine that a mutation of a particular E. coli strain led to that outbreak."

OpGen CEO Noel Doheny, a former Qiagen executive, was already living in Potomac when he took that position in January.

Besides its executive offices, OpGen is relocating its optical mapping services laboratory, as well as manufacturing and research and development divisions, to Gaithersburg. The company continues to operate a research facility in Madison, Easley said.

Ore acquires drug candidate from Roche

Ore Pharmaceuticals of Gaithersburg has acquired the clinical stage compound tiapamil from Swiss pharma giant Roche.

Ore will investigate therapeutic uses of tiapamil with central nervous system diseases. The acquisition is part of an existing drug repositioning partnership with Roche.

GenVec to get $6.6M

for vaccine work

GenVec of Gaithersburg will receive up to $6.6 million under the second option of a three-year agreement with the Department of Homeland Security.

The funding, which brings the total value of the agreement to $18.2 million, will support development of vaccines to prevent foot and mouth disease. The agency is responsible for conducting animal studies and GenVec is responsible for the development, production and regulatory approval for vaccines under the agreement.

This report originally appeared in The Business Gazette.