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Biotechs Buoyed at Mid-Atlantic Conference

November 8, 2009

Established Maryland bioscience companies foresee a fairly promising investment atmosphere, as they made their pitches to venture capitalists attending the Mid-Atlantic Bio Conference on Friday.


More than 750 participants, including more than 300 bioscience companies, attended the conference at the Washington Convention Center. The participants met with business representatives from 30 states.


"The atmosphere seemed much more favorable than recent pasts," said Gary Lessing, president and CEO of biopharmaceutical company Arginetix in Lutherville. "We were very pleased with the conference."


Lessing was among the executives making presentations to potential investors Friday. Thursday's presentations focused on emerging companies, while Friday's presenters have already begun distributing products.


Arginetix, which is developing treatments for cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders, recently closed a $10.75 million Series A financing round with investors including MedImmune Ventures of Gaithersburg, a venture capital fund owned by AstraZeneca Group. Argentix, which is operated virtually by Lessing and his partner, launched last year with $2 million in funding, Lessing said.


He said obtaining the latest round wasn't easy, as it has been difficult for startups to snag investments lately.


A. Sinclair Dunlop, CEO of investor Rock Spring Partners of Washington, D.C., said the conference does much to help both investors and bioscience companies, providing opportunities for them to confer at a time when investors have less and less time to look for deals on their own. Rock Spring Partners invests with early-stage companies involved in conventional pharmaceutical work, gene cell therapy and medical advances. The firm finances 11 companies, including three in Maryland.


"The early-stage companies are strong in this region," Dunlop said. "This is an efficient way to see them."


During his presentation, Lessing suggested that his company's small-molecule inhibitors, which target the enzyme arginase, could be partnered with other drugs to fully treat patients and therefore offer early partnering opportunities for companies. He also emphasized his company's "strong exit potential" as a selling point for investors.


"Some of the successes of local biotechs in the last few months ... bode well for future investment in the biotech market," Lessing said in phone call Monday, referring to the $3.4 billion market cap Human Genome Sciences of Gaithersburg achieved last week, following news that it plans to apply soon for regulatory approval of its new lupus treatment. "To a lesser extent, us completing this [$10.75 million investment] deal is part of it."


Cylex, a Columbia company that develops diagnostic tests for cellular immune function, portrayed a rosy self-portrait during its presentation. The company lauded its $33.4 million in capital and its niche as having the only standardized test for a broad assessment of the immune system that has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. Cylex, which is not currently raising money but is still interested in conversations with investors, already has financing with Roche and Siemens.


Company sales have gone from $1,000 in 2002 to $150,000 in 2008, said Cylex CEO Brad L. Stewart. He said the tests could yield $100 million annually in the global market, with $70 million in the U.S.


OpGen Inc. of Gaithersburg could have an edge over other companies tracking and identifying genes within bacteria that lead to inpatient infections, as it explores the entire genome, said CEO Noel Doheny. Doheny said while most identification systems take as many as four days to process, OpGen's technology can have results within three hours.


Jumping to $24 million in capital from its $8 million predictions, OpGen will begin launching its Argus system in March and already has two orders, Doheny said.


"We want to eventually transfer from a service company to a product," he said.


by Lindsey Robbins | Staff Writer.  http://www.gazette.net


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