BioWhittaker loses Legg Mason listingLegg Mason Wood...

LIFE SCIENCES

May 11, 1993|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Staff Writer

BioWhittaker loses Legg Mason listing

Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. has taken BioWhittaker Inc. of Frederick County off its recommended list for investors because the company's earnings have slipped.

Sales of the company's diagnostics have suffered due to a change in federal regulation, and the company had to take a $1.1 million nonrecurring charge this past quarter. Net income, which was at least $1 million in each quarter of 1992, slipped to $500,000 during the first quarter of 1993.

"While we continue to think that the longer-term future of this small biomedical company is very bright, the near-term market action of the stock may be unexciting until its earnings growth resumes," Legg Mason's monthly report says.

Drug helps treat damaged retinas

Here's some good news on a treatment developed in Baltimore and designed to restore vision to patients with holes in their retinas.

Clinical studies on 90 patients in Miami and Baltimore showed that 79 percent of patients who received a high dose of BetaKine had a substantial amount of vision restored, according to Celtrix Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company holds the patent to Beta- Kine, a therapy developed by Dr. Bert M. Glaser, director of the Retina Institute of Maryland at St. Joseph Hospital.

Burns Laboratories aims to expand

Burns Laboratories Inc., a start-up biotechnology company in Baltimore, hopes to grow rapidly in the next few months.

The company has only one employee: President and Chief Executive Officer Barry Burns. But it also supports six to eight researchers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. And it's negotiating to move into 37,000 square feet of office and laboratory space in Catonsville to gear up its research on a blood substitute and a family of anti-viral drugs.

Despite a $250,000 private investment recently, Dr. Burns said, the company is trying hard to find more investors. "Money is holding us back from moving quickly."

In the next couple months, he says, the company will be pushing to attract more financing so it can begin a more aggressive development program. Burns Laboratories recently won a $50,000 award from the Maryland Industrial Partnership Program for the second year in a row. The money will go to pay for laboratory chemicals and the salaries of graduate students at UMBC.

The company is collaborating with UMBC chemistry professor Ramachandra S. Hosmane on the development of anti-viral drugs.

Pool of managers may be growing

For years, Maryland venture capitalists have complained of a lack of local management talent to run biotechnology companies in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. But that may be changing, according to John T.W. Hawkins of Russell Reynolds Associates, an international executive search consulting firm.

In the past several years, biotech companies such as MedImmune Inc., Genetic Therapy Inc. Univax Biologics and Oncologics, which are all located in the Gaithersburg or Rockville area, have recruited managers from major pharmaceutical companies, he says.

"I think that myth [of a lack of local talent] is gradually being eroded and that gradually these companies will begin to seed new companies," said Mr. Hawkins, who specializes in recruiting for life sciences companies.

For the biotech industry to succeed in the region, there must be several large companies that will be able to spin off new businesses and to provide a fertile training ground for managers who can run those spinoffs. But attracting top managers has always been hard for regions that do not have a critical mass of successful companies.

Kirschner chairman buys more stock

Kirschner Medical Corp.'s chairman, C. Scott Harrison, has purchased an additional 27,500 shares of common stock on the open market for between $7.75 and $8 a share. Dr. Harrison owns 362,900 of the 3.22 million outstanding shares of common stock.

In addition, Kirschner director Rex Lysinger purchased 2,000 shares of common stock.

Dr. Harrison said the purchases were made in late March, during a period when under company policy managers are allowed to purchase stock.

The Timonium company makes and markets orthopedic devices, including hip replacements.

New banana grown without pesticides

It's thicker and shorter, but AgriStar Inc. says the Goldfinger, its genetically engineered banana, can be grown without pesticides.

By the end of the year, the Conroe, Texas, biotechnology company expects to begin producing the banana, which tastes a bit like an apple and is less likely to turn brown after it is cut.

The plant also is resistant to two of the fruit's most devastating scourges -- black sigotoka and Panama disease.

The banana was developed by the Fundacion Hondurena De Investigacion Agricola, a nonprofit research organization in Honduras, and was licensed by the Texas company.

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