Company has antidote for terror attacks

Meridian supplies kits to help counter chemical and biological threats

Small business

June 26, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

As part of a federal program that could mean a boost for Meridian Medical Technologies Inc., the Columbia company has delivered the first of what it anticipates will be a series of nerve gas antidote kits to help major cities prepare for terrorist attacks.

Meridian made its first delivery through the program to Oklahoma City this month, and confirmed two orders for unidentified cities last week.

"What this means for our company is one, nerve gas antidote kits, to our knowledge, will always be an integral part of this program, and two, those kits will always be ours," said James H. Miller, Meridian's president and chief executive officer.

Meridian manufactures pre-filled automatic injectors used to treat allergies or the effects of chemical warfare.

The nerve gas antidote injectors are being sold through Metropolitan Medical Response Systems, or MMRS, a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Emergency Preparedness.

The program, which began in 1996, is an effort to prepare emergency personnel, such as police and fire departments, in 120 metropolitan areas for terrorist attacks, said Damon Thompson, a spokesman for HHS.

Kathleen Austin, manager of corporate communications for Meridian, declined to reveal how many injectors were delivered to Oklahoma City or the value of the sale.

But, said Miller, "We really do expect the domestic preparedness business within Meridian over the next three years to grow to a significant level."

Meridian was created in 1996 by the merger of Rockville's Survival Technology Inc. and Boston-based Brunswick Biomedical Corp.

Miller, 61, was running both companies simultaneously until the merger, when he became president of Meridian. In January 1997, the new company moved into its Columbia headquarters.

At the time of the merger, there were about 270 employees. Now, Meridian has close to 370 workers: 35 in Columbia, 40 in Northern Ireland and the rest in the company's factory in St. Louis.

Meridian reported revenue of $14.1 million for the company's third quarter. Shares in Meridian closed Friday at 10 1/4 on the Nasdaq market.

Miller said Meridian has about 95 percent of the world's market for nerve gas antidotes, and its products were used in the Vietnam War and Desert Storm.

Among Meridian's other products are EpiPens, auto-injectors filled with epinephrine to calm reactions to bee stings and other allergies. EpiPen, a prescription medication, costs about $40 to $70 without insurance, according to local pharmacies.

In 1998, the company recalled about 1 million of its EpiPens because of a defect. Miller said the financial impact of that recall is long gone, and all of those injectors expired in April.

Meridian's newest endeavor is PRIME ECG, which was patented in April and does body surface mapping.

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