Diagnon Corp. of Rockville said yesterday that it has won a $9.95 million contract from the National Institutes of Health to help research new forms of birth control.
The five-year contract will allow Diagnon to boost its staff by 15 percent, to 115, and hopefully will contribute to solving such problems as teen-age pregnancy, said Michael O'Flaherty, executive vice president.
The company won't be working to invent new contraceptives, Mr. O'Flaherty said. Instead, Diagnon will do research that should help drug companies develop and bring products to market faster. Mostly that will involve testing potentially promising compounds on animals, Mr. O'Flaherty said.
Diagnon is a contract research company that does most of its work for the federal government, which accounts for more than 99 percent of its revenue. Mr. O'Flaherty said the firm already has contracts to study cancer, AIDS, hepatitis, flu and alcohol abuse.
He said that it hasn't been decided yet which birth control methods will be tested or developed under the contract.
"The government selects new compounds to be supported," Mr. O'Flaherty said. "They run several a year [through the testing process], sometimes several hundred."
He added that special attention would be paid to developing contraceptives that could be used all over the world, while respecting cultural differences that might make some methods preferable to others in specific countries.
The NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development gave the contract to Diagnon Friday, Mr. O'Flaherty said. The president of the Rockville firm, Dr. John C. Landon, once worked for a company in Worcester, Mass., that had previously done the same work for the NIH.
"We've taken over what amounts to a 20-year program," Mr. O'Flaherty said. "We knew the players, we knew the science, and we put together a better proposal."
The NIH will choose the compounds that Diagnon will test, and the company will not receive any rights to or royalties from the products that are invented during the research, Mr. O'Flaherty said.