Baltimore gets a biotech spinoff Scios Nova, doctors to launch drug firm

October 05, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

The Greater Baltimore Committee's Technology Month got off to a rousing start last night with the announcement that the dark cloud cast by the purchase of the city's leading biotechnology company by an out-of-state company might have a silver lining after all.

Scios Nova Inc., the company that emerged after Scios Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., acquired Baltimore-based Nova Pharmaceutical Co. last year, said yesterday that it would spin off a new business, Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc., to be based in Baltimore. Guilford will concentrate on developing technologies established at Nova for the treatment of central nervous system disorders.

Last night's announcement brought applause from business and political leaders, who gathered at the downtown Hyatt Regency for a dinner that kicked off the GBC's month-long program of events promoting the high-technology industry in Baltimore.

The loss of Nova as a Baltimore-based company was regarded as a significant setback for the city's aspirations to become a national biotech powerhouse. With its roots in advanced medical research at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Nova had been regarded as the city's best hope to grow a major pharmaceutical company within its borders.

At the time it was sold, it was a publicly traded company with 140 employees, many of whom lost their jobs after the merger.

But the spinoff of Guilford was received last night as a welcome consolation prize. Dr. Craig R. Smith, who will become chief executive of Guilford, predicted the new company would become every bit as important to the region's biotech industry as Nova was. And, like Nova, its work will largely be based on research done at Hopkins.

"What's important is that the discoveries and all of the work that has been done in developing products in the neurological area are not leaving Baltimore," Dr. Smith said.

One of the partners in the Guilford venture is Dr. Solomon Snyder, the Johns Hopkins University researcher whose work formed the core of Nova's activities.

The announcement of the Guilford spinoff was one of two economic development gains announced at the dinner.

In the other, J. C. Weiss III, chairman of the GBC's High Technology Council, told the gathering that A. L. Laboratories Inc. of Fort Lee, N.J., will base its U.S. Pharmaceutical Group in Baltimore. A. L. Labs is the parent company of Barre-National, a maker of liquid generic drugs that employs about 550 people in Woodlawn.

George Barrett, president of Barre, will become president of the U.S. Pharmaceutical Group, which will need an additional 150,000 square feet for a distribution center here. In addition, the research and development efforts of the group will be consolidated at the Hopkins' Bayview campus in East Baltimore. Susan Brennan, manager of business development for Baltimore County's Economic Development Department, said her "educated guess" was that A. L. Labs' moves would bring 50 jobs to the area.

The GBC event last night attracted many of the state's most prominent business and political leaders, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The governor exhorted business leaders not to neglect the manufacturing sector in their quest for high-technology development and called for establishment of apprenticeship programs similar to those he had seen on a recent trip to Germany.

The Guilford Pharmaceuticals venture will start out small. From a staff of four, the company expects to grow to 15 to 20 employees over the next year.

For now, Guilford will be 70 percent owned by Scios Nova, but the California company expects to decrease its share below 50 percent as it finds new equity investors. Eventually, the company will seek public financing, Dr. Smith said.

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