Genetic Therapy hires J&J officer as new president

June 22, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

Genetic Therapy Inc., a Gaithersburg-based company recognized as one of the leading contenders in a still-embryonic industry, announced yesterday that it had hired a top official from Johnson & Johnson as president and chief operating officer.

Michael D. Casey, formerly president of J&J division McNeil Pharmaceutical, began his new positions yesterday. M. James Barrett, who was president and chief executive, retained his post as chief executive and also assumed the title of chairman of the 7-year-old company.

Genetic Therapy has yet to produce a marketable product, but its stock price has more than doubled in the past four months, hitting a peak of $27 a share. It closed at $20 yesterday, up 50 cents.

The enthusiasm over the company has come from investors' belief that Genetic Therapy is in the forefront of a race to develop commercially viable gene therapies, in which diseases are treated by inserting altered genes into a patient's cells.

Genetic Therapy is targeting a host of diseases, from cystic fibrosis to AIDS. Its most promising product is a method for delivering a genetic treatment for brain cancer, an incurable disease that kills about 30,000 each year in the United States.

Mr. Casey's arrival does not portend imminent approval for the company's products, he stressed yesterday. But "the expectation is that these products will be able to move through the pipeline at a very rapid pace," said Mr. Casey, 47. That means a product could be on the market hopefully before 1996, if federal Food and Drug Administration tests go smoothly, he said.

"I think they've indicated that they're in a pivotal trial for a brain cancer" cure, said R. Brandon Fradd, an analyst with Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. He said there's no reason to infer too much about Mr. Casey's arrival.

Moving from a pharmaceutical giant to the Gaithersburg company represents a loss of some security, Mr. Casey acknowledged. Before joining McNeil as president in 1989, he worked at another J&J unit, Ortho Pharmaceutical, starting in 1968 and ending up as vice president for sales and marketing.

Genetic Therapy is "a small company with 100 employees that, we believe, is going to be undergoing some considerable growth in the next few years," Mr. Casey said. His job is to help manage that growth, including overseeing product planning, clinical trials, its scale-up to full production, strategic planning and marketing.

Mr. Barrett "will be able to continue to devote his efforts to the scientific side, and we'll do strategic planning together," Mr. Casey added. "I will be devoting my time to commercialization."

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