Columbia biotech firm, Synthecell, reorganizesSynthecell...

LIFE SCIENCES

April 06, 1993|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Staff Writer

Columbia biotech firm, Synthecell, reorganizes

Synthecell Inc., a biotechnology company in Columbia, is being reorganized, and its former chief executive, James Hawkins, is now on the fringes of the company.

Synthecell is a holding company for Synthecell Vega Biomedicals Corp., a manufacturer of DNA and peptides for researchers and companies, and Genetic Medisyn Corp., which is developing antisense technology.

Both companies were in need of financial capital. Synthecell Vega's chief executive, John Byington, said his company hopes to complete "a major private placement in the next several weeks" that will allow the company to compete in the field. The company had $2.5 million in revenues in 1992 and expects that the last quarter will be the company's best in terms of revenue.

Synthecell sold off 75 percent of Genetic Medisyn Corp. to Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp., a young New York-based company, in January. Synthecell has retained a 25 percent ownership, and its employees remain in Columbia.

Together the two companies employ about 60 people.

Dr. Hawkins, the former chairman and chief executive, is no longer an officer in the company, although he retains a position on the board.

It was Dr. Hawkins who helped start Synthecell five years ago by securing private financing. Dr. Hawkins' primary interest has been in the development of antisense, a therapy being developed that would shut off a disease at its genetic source.

Dr. Hawkins said yesterday that he is continuing to edit a journal, Antisense Research and Development, and is one of the organizers of a meeting on gene therapy and antisense that will take place in Keystone, Colo., next week. He declined to comment on details of the reorganization.

Rockburn markets software for hospitals

Rockburn Systems Inc., a tiny high-technology company in Baltimore, has begun selling the software it developed over the past three years to hospitals around the country.

The software is intended for hospital employees who oversee the quality of patient care and the cost of that care for individual patients.

Instead of writing information down on a note pad at a patient's bedside and then entering it into a main computer, the employee can enter the data on a laptop computer in the patient's room and then transfer it to the main computer system.

Rockburn's software is being used at Maryland General Hospital, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The company hopes to sell the product, called Easy Chart, nationwide. The software sells for between $15,000 and $30,000.

Science writing award named for Dr. Basu

An annual state science writing award, funded by three Maryland companies, was established last week in memory of W. R. Grace & Co. chemist Pamela Basu, who was killed in a carjacking Sept. 8.

The award, to be presented in May, is intended to motivate students in grades six through eight to write about the importance of science and its relevance to society.

Dr. Basu, 34, of Savage, was driving her 22-month-old daughter to preschool when she was abducted and dragged two miles as she dangled from the door of her BMW. Jury selection began yesterday in the trial of one of the suspects charged in her death.

Besides W. R. Grace, Westinghouse Electric Corp. and Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. are supporting the project.

College holds classes for elementary pupils

Each Friday Baltimore City Community College tries to make the world of science more understandable to a small group of city elementary school pupils.

The children study astronomy in a planetarium, botany in the greenhouse, chemistry in laboratories and take research field trips. The link between BCCC and city schools was established to encourage students to think of careers in the life sciences.

Wellcome stock hurt by AZT study results

Shares in British pharmaceutical company Wellcome PLC fell Friday after a major study cast doubt on prospects for its ground-breaking AZT, or Retrovir, anti-AIDS drug.

Wellcome shares trading in the United States fell 62.5 cents, to $10.625, on the New York Stock Exchange, and those trading in London plunged 12 percent. Wellcome shares recovered slightly yesterday in both markets.

Analysts said the markets' reaction Friday to the results of a comprehensive trial of the world's first AIDS treatment was unjustified. Many said the response was exaggerated by current negative sentiment toward the drug sector as a whole on fears that the Clinton administration will curb U.S. price rises.

First results of a three-year "Concorde" AZT trial found the drug did not halt the onset of AIDS in people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Nearly 40 percent of AZT sales are for people not yet suffering from symptoms of the virus.

The authors of the new study followed patients for three years and concluded that AZT made no difference in the rate at which patients progressed to severe disease. The study is not yet completed, but it appears to contradict previous research.

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