Start-up Is Off And Running

August 05, 1993|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Staff Writer

Five years after it formed to develop adhesives from marine bacteria, Adheron Inc. has reeled in a source of revenue to finance its research and is about to start producing what it hopes will be a trademark glue from the sea.

Only a few months ago, Adheron was one of the state's smallest biotechnology companies, with no revenues, profit, or product to sell. Today the company has 25 employees, up from two 12 months ago, and expects a 50 percent growth in revenues from a newly acquired subsidiary. The transformation was made possible by a $315,000 state loan, approved by the state Board of Public Works last week, that Adheron used to buy the assets of a division of Nova Pharmaceutical Inc.

Even the original mission of Adheron, to do research on marine bacteria in the Chesapeake Bay for a naturally occurring type of glue, has expanded: For the past three months, it has been screening marine bacteria for possible sources of new drugs.

"Our real interest is trying to discover new pharmaceuticals," said David M. Manyak, Adheron president and chief executive officer.

One sign of Adheron's newfound confidence is the 19,000-square-foot office and laboratory it moved into three weeks ago in Hanover. The rented space -- vacated by Crop Genetics International, which moved to Columbia -- is four times as big as the combined offices of the united companies, but Dr. Manyak said he expects it to be filled in three to five years.

"We have a lot of room to grow," he said. Dr. Manyak, who holds a doctorate in marine biology and biochemistry from Duke University, worked for Merrill Lynch as one of Wall Street's first biotech analysts in the early 1980s.

The company in December purchased NovaScreen, which was put up for sale when Nova merged with Scios Corp. of California. The subsidiary tests chemical compounds in the laboratory to see how they react to cell receptors in a search for new drugs or alternatives to existing drugs. The process is highly automated and, as a result, companies can test thousands of compounds.

NovaScreen's sales in the last three years were flat or declining. But it won a federal contract worth $4.3 million over three years to test compounds for projects supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. Sales from private companies also increased this year, Dr. Manyak said, and total revenues should grow by 50 percent in 1993 to more than $2 million.

NovaScreen's customers include major drug companies in the United States as well as Europe and Japan. Dr. Manyak attributed improved sales to increased contact in the drug industry by himself and senior scientist John Ferkany. Dr. Ferkany, now the head of NovaScreen, previously ran a 40-person research and development team at Nova Pharmaceutical.

Adheron was founded by University of Maryland researchers to replicate underwater adhesives they discovered. The company hopes such a product would be useful in offshore oil production or boat building or for such medical purposes as healing wounds or attaching a prosthesis.

When Dr. Manyak joined Adheron in late 1991 after serving as a consultant to biotech firms, the company began looking at marine bacteria for other purposes, primarily new drugs.

Finding such products is now its principal long-term mission. While plants and soil bacteria have been a bountiful source of pharmaceuticals, Dr. Manyak said, "almost nobody has looked at marine bacteria."

With the acquisition of NovaScreen, he said, the company has a built-in way to test marine bacteria. In the past few months, Adheron has begun putting ground-up marine bacteria through the Nova screening process.

Adheron today also is in the process of "scaling up" to produce the bacteria that it hopes will produce underwater adhesives.

"We are in the very early stages," Dr. Manyak explained, "but I think there will be a lot of growth in adhesives."

Dr. Manyak works on that project himself with Ronald M. Weiner, professor of microbiology at the University of Maryland College Park, andothers.

Adheron also is looking for short-term revenue producers. A new subsidiary, Marizyme, holds the license to 10 enzymes from marine bacteria and hopes to develop products for industrial uses.

The potential for commercialization is "excellent," said Arthur Drea, assistant secretary with the Department of Economic and Employment Development's financing program, the Maryland Industrial and Commercial Redevelopment Fund.

DEED directly financed the purchase of NovaScreen equipment with the low-interest $315,000 loan, he said.

As a condition of the loan, Adheron raised $150,000 from private sources, and Anne Arundel County, where Adheron is now located, agreed to lend the company $35,000. The company earlier this year received a $50,000 challenge grant from DEED.

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