New technology focuses on genetic messages


December 10, 1990|By Timothy J. Mullaney

Gary L. Richardson is a guy who talks sense. But in his new job, he's spending a lot of time talking anti-sense.

It's less crazy than it sounds.

Mr. Richardson is the new director of custom manufacturing and product development at Synthecell Corp. of Rockville, and part of his job is to lead the biotechnology company's exploration of antisense technology.

The technology is still in its early development stages, but it has the potential to offer drugs that work unlike anything on the market today.

Like a lot of drugs now being developed, drugs that grow out of anti-sense technology will work by manipulating RNA and DNA, which contain genetic messages that determine everything from the color of a person's hair to the susceptibility to disease.

Anti-sense researchers hope to isolate the genetic messages that cause a particular disease -- the sense -- and devise genetically engineered antidotes containing opposite messages -- the antisense. In theory, genetic "sense" that dictates colon cancer would be offset by "antisense" that fights the disease.

For now, though, it's only theory.

"I would say it's a decade off," said Mr. Richardson, a microbiology major at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who has done graduate work in biochemistry at George Washington University. He lives in Gaithersburg.

In the meantime, he'll also direct the custom manufacturing thahelps to pay Synthecell's bills and that subsidizes its research into anti-sense technology.

Synthecell does contract research work and manufactures reagents -- the catalysts used in biotechnology research -- for other researchers, Mr. Richardson said.

The contract research and manufacturing work help make Synthecell profitable despite its youth, said James Hawkins, the company's chief executive officer. So far, that has freed the company from the need for outside venture capital, though Mr. Hawkins has said the company plans to raise some money in the near future.

Synthecell, which was founded in 1987, has 17 employees.

Mr. Richardson came to Synthecell from Life Technologies Inc. in Gaithersburg, where he worked in a division that his old employer recently announced it intends to sell.

Having met Mr. Hawkins -- Synthecell supplied reagents to Life Technologies -- Mr. Richardson decided to send Synthecell a resume.

At Life Technologies, Mr. Richardson worked on more than 5basic research products, including DNA-based diagnostics, a field in which Synthecell wants to boost its presence.

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