Ohio biotech firm to move to city

May 25, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

An Ohio biotechnology firm will move to Baltimore this summer, bringing 20 jobs initially but promising several hundred in the next few years and giving the region's biotechnology initiative a boost.

James S. Burns, chairman of Osiris Therapeutics Inc., said the presence of Johns Hopkins University and Health System and a $3 million state-backed loan to develop laboratories were key to the selection of Maryland over states from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Osiris is developing drugs that will help bone marrow and cartilage regenerate, Mr. Burns said at a news conference at the Saga Building on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point, where Osiris will move from Cleveland by year's end. The drugs will be developed using rare bone marrow cells already present in the human body, Mr. Burns said.

David W. Baird, vice president of Belt's Corp., which will be Osiris' landlord, said the 2-year-old firm initially will lease 30,000 square feet. The company has short-term options to lease 50,000 more square feet, and options to lease the entire 183,000-square-foot waterfront facility as other tenants move out. He said Belt's will move its own headquarters out of the building to make way for its new tenant.

Although Osiris will start with about 20 employees in Baltimore, Mr. Burns said the number will expand to "several hundred within a three-year period."

State officials greeted the move as a step forward in developing Maryland's future.

"This is another building block, another part of the foundation" of a life sciences industry that can be one cornerstone of the state's 21st-century economy, said Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Maryland has been trying throughout Gov. William Donald Schaefer's tenure, especially during the governor's second term, to make the state a player in biotechnology. While heavy public investment and the state's strong base of scientific research at such institutions as Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health have helped more than 150 Maryland biotech companies open their doors, Maryland companies so far have remained much smaller than hugely successful firms that have driven leading biotech corridors in California and Massachusetts.

Mr. Wasserman said the state will get warrants to buy stock in Osiris as part of the deal for the $3 million loan. Baltimore may also have the right to buy equity in the company.

Theoretically, the company's drugs could help orthopedic patients avoid hip or knee replacements and help breast cancer patients endure heavier chemotherapy by protecting their bone marrow from chemotherapy's side effects, Mr. Burns said.

"The technology is complex, but the concept is simple," Mr. Burns said. "We're looking to replace devices and metallic orthopedic technology with biology."

But Mr. Burns said the company has not yet begun human trials on the drugs. On average, a drug company spends from four to seven years doing trials on a drug before submitting it to the Food and Drug Administration for marketing approval.

Mr. Burns said Osiris is moving to the northern end of the Baltimore-Washington corridor to be close to Johns Hopkins, which he said has one of the two best orthopedics departments in the nation. The other is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, he said, where three scientists began the research Osiris is pursuing.

"I could potentially have a problem locating in the Midwest and at

tracting people," he said. In other Eastern areas such as Boston, expensive housing was a problem, he added.

Mr. Burns himself has been sold on Maryland for some time. Before taking charge of Osiris, he was a founder of HealthCare Ventures, an affiliate of HealthCare Investment Corp., an Edison, N.J., venture capital firm. HealthCare Investment has supported Maryland biotech hopefuls such as Human Genome Sciences Inc., Genetic Therapy Inc., MedImmune Inc. and Pharmavene Inc., all based in Montgomery County.

Mr. Burns said the company is privately held, with about 100 stockholders. He said research progress, market conditions and the availability of partnerships with bigger drug companies to fund Osiris research will all factor into the company's decision about when to sell stock to the public.

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