Archives For June 2012

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

John and Tom Knorr have been on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for 16 years. They started with one restaurant — The Red Roost — and added others over the years. Now, the centerpiece of their operation is in Maryland, too.

Owners Tom (left) and John (right) Knorr outside the new home of Evolution Craft Brewery Co. in Salisbury.

Evolution Craft Brewery Co. moved to the state in April, settling into a 30,000-square-foot building in Salisbury after uprooting from a space one-tenth the size in nearby Delmar, Del.

“We’ve driven by this building for years,” John Knorr said, standing outside of the brewery’s tasting room on Tuesday. “It was an abandoned ice factory. It turned out one of our friends owned it and was trying to sell it.”

So the Knorr brothers bought it and, with $1.5 million, including about $650,000 in bridge financing from a Salisbury Wicomico Economic Development fund partially seeded by the state Department of Business and Economic Development, outfitted their new brewery, restaurant and tasting room.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state officials, including DBED Secretary Christian Johansson, visited Evolution Tuesday for a tour and a taste on Tuesday.

O’Malley lauded the success of the Knorr brothers, who own five restaurants locally — as well as a French bistro in Guatemala — and the brewery. They employ 350 people in the area and plan to add 10 to the brewery’s staff of 51 this year.

“These guys had the vision, these took the chance, these guys risked their own dollars on investing in Maryland,” the governor said. “We were there to help them with partnership, with people helping at every level.”

The extra space came just in time.

Evolution, or EVO for short, brewed 4,000 barrels, or about 124,000 gallons of beer last year. Tom Knorr said they expect to do about 7,000 this year and, if all goes right, 10,000 to 12,000 in 2013.

“It could be more,” he said.

For now, the Knorr brothers said every case of Evolution is already sold, even before it’s made. They’re working on expanding their reach into more of Pennsylvania and Virginia while keeping suppliers in Maryland well stocked.

Evolution is part of a growing cohort of small craft breweries that every year are taking a larger share of the American beer market. According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewer industry group, craft brewers sold 11.46 million barrels of beer in 2011. That was an increase of 15 percent over 2010 even as overall beer sales were down 1.3 percent that year.

Evolution’s portfolio includes five main beers, including Primal Pale Ale, Exile ESB, Lucky 7 Porter, Rise up Stout and the top-selling Lot #3 India Pale Ale.

“People just really, really like our beers,” Tom Knorr said. “That’s how we’ve grown it, is grass roots.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Vorbeck Materials Corp., a Howard County nanotechnology company, will open a manufacturing facility on the Eastern Shore, a move that will eventually create 50 jobs, the state and company announced Wednesday.

Vorbeck, of Jessup, will buy a state-owned, 42,000-square-foot building in Pocomoke City for the project. The new employees will be hired over the next three years, according to the company.

“Maryland has been a terrific location for us to start and grow our business,” Vorbeck CEO John Lettow said. “We are excited by this opportunity in Pocomoke City. Along with our headquarters in Howard County, we look forward to continued expansion and to creating new jobs in innovation and manufacturing in Maryland.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley said Vorbeck’s decision to start in Maryland and grow in the state reinforces the state’s leadership in high-tech sectors.

“It is exciting to see a cutting-edge, innovative company like Vorbeck creating high quality jobs on the Eastern Shore,” the governor said.

Founded in 2006, Vorbeck’s work centers on graphene, a lattice of carbon atoms that has applications in communications, energy, transportation and beyond. Vorbeck uses graphene to make conductive ink for printing components for the electronics industry and to develop high-performance lithium ion batteries.

According to the company, smartphones using Vorbeck’s battery technology will charge in 10 minutes and last a full 24 hours. The same technology would quadruple the range of electric cars that now get 100 miles out of 10 to 12 hours of charging.

In February, Vorbeck was named one of America’s Next Top Energy Innovators by the U.S. Department of Energy. R&D Magazine recognized the company this month for developing one of the top 100 most important scientific and technological products or advances of the year.

“The addition of this innovative company — and make no mistake, they are garnering national and international attention for their technological advances — is a key component in strengthening our community by securing skilled jobs for our workforce in the [science, technology, engineering and math fields],” said Worcester County Commission President James C. “Bud” Church.

As part of Vorbeck’s move, Maryland will defer payments and interest on the sale of the building if the company meets hiring goals. Vorbeck has received $650,000 in investments and other funding from the Department of Business and Economic Development and may be eligible for more in its new facility, including the One Maryland Tax Credit and the Job Creation Tax Credit.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Startup Maryland is taking its show on the road.

The entrepreneur support and advocacy group founded this spring will crisscross the state on a two-and-a-half-week bus tour in September. The trip starts Sept. 11 with a trek to Ocean City and is scheduled to wrap up Sept. 28 in Howard County after canvassing the rest of the state.

At stops along the way, Startup Maryland will roll out the first round of its business pitch competition. Organizers said they are still working out how much prize money will be distributed and how it will be divvied up.

“We’re excited to discover the undiscovered entrepreneurs while helping the state ignite entrepreneurship and unite the different parts of Maryland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Julie Lenzer Kirk, co-chair of Startup Maryland.

The group will record video of entrepreneurs’ business pitches and post them online for a round of public voting. The top 16, based on votes and judges’ scores, will move on to the next round.

Those lucky 16 will get a month of coaching before they deliver their pitch again live in front of judges and compete for the prize money.

In addition to spreading some much-needed capital to entrepreneurs in the state, Startup organizers hope the tour will drum up interest in the entrepreneurial community and the organizations that help get businesses off the ground.

“One of the greatest aspects of this tour is the opportunity to collaborate with organizations and people across the entire state in support and celebration of entrepreneurs.” said Mike Binko, Startup Maryland co-chair. “The response from those we’ve shared the idea with so far has been so overwhelming that we’ve already had to expand the trip by a couple days.”

Stops along the bus tour will include input from Startup partners and collaborators, including the Gov. Martin O’Malley, the U.S. Naval Academy, public colleges and universities, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Emerging Technology Centers and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.

Startup Maryland is the in-state affiliate of Startup America, a national organization dedicated to helping young companies grow and create jobs. Startup Maryland is focused on helping entrepreneurs tap sources of capital investment, celebrate their successes, find the resources they need to grow and thrive and make connections to potential business partners and customers.

By Jenny Lazarus, Writer/Editor, DBED Marketing & Communications

When designer and inventor Terry Sankar wanted to develop a kinder, gentler wind turbine, he looked first to the heavens, and then to the mountains of Western Maryland.

“I felt by imitating nature through the observation of shapes and motion in the galaxies I would find clues to design an effective wind turbine that would be harmonious with the environment,” said Sankar, founder of Maryland-based Sustainable Systems Inc. “I also knew I would need a place to test the design.”

An FSU student monitors the performance of the Aeolun wind turbine system in wind tunnel in the Department of Physics and Engineering.

Sankar eventually settled on a design that looks like a stack of scoop-shaped blades he calls the Aeolun Harvester. It takes its name from Aeolus, the Greek god of wind.

In 2010, supported by the Maryland Industrial Partnerships program, Sankar teamed with the Frostburg State University Department of Physics and Engineering to find out if the Aeolun design will actually work.

A group of FSU engineering students, mechanical engineering professor Yi-Zun Julie Wang and electrical engineering professor Mohammed S. Eltayeb worked with Sankar to develop, design and build a full-scale prototype of Aeolun.

“Western Maryland is ideal for this project,” Eltayeb said. “In addition to the ability to run simulations in our wind tunnel, we have the elevations and wind capacity necessary to perform the critical real-world testing.”

The Aeolun is a vertical axis wind turbine, meaning the blades spin around a vertical axis, as opposed to the huge turbines that punctuate Western Maryland mountain ridges, which have blades that spin around a horizontal axis. Averaging a height of 22-30 feet, vertical axis turbines are much smaller than their horizontally oriented cousins, which rise up to 140 feet.

Easy to transport, build and maintain, Eltayeb says the Aeolun is ideal for individual use in urban areas where space is often limited.

The project provides multiple benefits to both students and the environment. Students gain real-world knowledge and experience while working to develop energy sources with lower costs, lower noise and an overall safer impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

Initially, faculty and students built a full-scale Aeolun in front of FSU’s Compton Science Center to gather low speed data. A variation of the design was later built and taken to Dan’s Rock, close to the FSU campus, where strong winds caused the model to crash.

“Sometimes the best way to learn is to fail,” Eltayeb said. “You have to design, measure and fail to design, measure and succeed.”

Terry Sankar demonstrates his Aeolun wind turbine design.

In February, MIPS awarded Sustainable Systems a second grant to support the second phase of the Aeolun project. During this phase, Eltayeb will help students create a remote, wireless data acquisition mechanism for gathering measurements necessary to report efficiency and performance of the turbine. The mechanism will eventually be installed on a prototype slated for construction on top of Big Savage Mountain, elevation 3,000 ft.

“It is our job to provide evaluation of the technology of the project,” said Eltayeb. “The results will let us know if it is time to commercialize the technology.”

Sankar was recently granted a full design patent for the Aeolun. He hopes the patent will help him attract more funding for Sustainable Systems. In the meantime, the Sustainable Systems team and FSU continue their work of turning research into reality.

“I believe this turbine, with its low manufacturing costs, could be life-changing for many remote and underdeveloped countries with little or no access to conventional energy sources,” Eltayeb said. “Clinics could readily manage the Aeolun, increase their services and provide healthcare services that are currently unavailable.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

The University of Maryland BioPark announced on Tuesday it has added two new tenants to the research campus on Baltimore’s west side.

The tenants are Biogen Diagnostics Ltd. and Global Scientific Solutions for Health Inc., or GSSHealth.

UMB’s announcement came as BioPark and university leaders joined government officials, researchers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics from around the state at the BIO International Convention in Boston.

The three-day conference is the preeminent event for the biotech industry, a sector in which Maryland continues to invest significant resources.

The new BioPark tenants will bring an international touch to the campus.

BioGen is based in the United Kingdom. The molecular diagnostics company has developed a wide range of medical testing products.

GSSHealth has helped establish quality-assured laboratory testing abroad since 2008. The company is now working in Africa as well as six countries in Southeast Asia — Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

“Having two companies with international operations select the BioPark as a primary U.S. location clearly demonstrates the tremendous growth potential for companies locating on our academic medical center campus,” said Jim Hughes, president of the BioPark.

Maryland has invested heavily in biotech sector with financing programs like the Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit and the Biotechnology Development Awards and support from the Maryland Biotechnology Center.

Biotechnology and life sciences will also be a focus of the InvestMaryland program, which in March raised $84 million that will be invested in seed-, early and growth-stage companies.

By Jim Hughes, President, University of Maryland BioPark

Each year, the University of Maryland business development team looks forward to spending three days in early summer at arguably the most significant annual event for the life sciences industry: the BIO International Convention. Held this year in Boston, the convention brings together industry executives with corporate and academic scientists in an ideal forum for networking and marketing within the biotech industry.

The audience is ideal for the work of the university, the BioPark and the state. One of our primary objectives as attendees and exhibitors is to market the pipeline of UM bioscience technologies available for licensing. Over the course of the convention, one-on-one partnering sessions will allow our tech transfer team to conduct as many as 20 key meetings to market therapeutics; vaccines; drug targets in oncology, neurodegenerative disorders, autoimmune disorders, infectious disease; and devices. We’ll also engage with existing bioscience and pharma partners to promote and expand funding of research and clinical trial contracts with UM’s bioscience faculty and clinicians. Our final focus will be marketing the BioPark as an ideal location for bioscience companies and promoting the Park’s existing base of nearly two dozen bioscience companies. Several existing tenant companies, including Paragon Biosciences, SNBL, Vigilant Bioservices, Gliknik and Ablitech will join us at the show.

While the convention provides the unique opportunity to engage with industry leaders from around the country and the world, it also offers the adjunct but very important benefit of networking with partners closer to home. The Maryland Pavilion, Maryland Gala, and breakfast meetings hosted by the Department of Business and Economic Development are all convenient venues where the UM team will be able to network with our Maryland-based partners. DBED plays an important role as it effectively builds the brand for the State by organizing the pavilion and managing the logistics, making it easier for exhibitors to focus on their business development priorities. The Maryland Pavilion is a vital setting for interaction, as it attracts alumni of our Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, now well-placed executives in the bio and pharmaceutical industry. As in previous years, the volume of foot traffic in this venue promises to create a rich networking environment where finding executive-level talent for our start-ups is possible.

Leading the contingent from the University of Maryland this year is our University President, Jay A. Perman, M.D. who is committed to expanding the entrepreneurial and translational impact of our University. Dr. Perman joined the University in July 2010, serves on the Governor’s Life Sciences Advisory Board, and is himself a physician, inventor and committed advocate for the many benefits biotechnology brings to society.

Finally, I am personally very excited for the opportunity to promote several new technology initiatives at BIO 2012, which will dramatically increase technology commercialization and new venture formation in Maryland. The InvestMaryland and InnovateMaryland programs will fuel the creation of many new bioscience ventures that are born in the University’s labs.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

The Maryland Venture Fund Authority will tap a handful of venture capital firms by early July to invest the lion’s share of the state’s $84 million InvestMaryland program, authority Chairman Peter Greenleaf said Thursday.

“You can feel comfortable that the range of investments [is] what we’re looking at, from early to late stage, across all areas of technology and entrepreneurialism in the state,” Greenleaf told some 200 entrepreneurs and investors at a forum in Rockville.

On June 28, the authority will receive recommendations from a consultant as to which firms to invest with and then will announce its decisions by the first week of July, according to Greenleaf.

Private venture capital firms will invest $56.4 million, or about two-thirds of the money raised for InvestMaryland, the largest capital program in the State’s history.

The authority expects to choose between five and eight firms that would receive between $7 million and $12 million each from the program. Those firms will invest in seed, early stage and growth companies, with a focus on information technology and life sciences. They will return to the state all of the principal and 80 percent of the profits from successful investments.

Another $20.7 million will be invested by the state’s Maryland Venture Fund, which will direct attention to seed and early stage startups. The fund, originally seeded with $25 million, has seen returns of about $64 million and helped create 2,000 jobs over its 17 year history.

“The goal [of InvestMaryland] is to create thousands of jobs,” said Christian Johansson, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic development and the architect of the venture capital program. “The goal is to position Maryland as a leader in science, security discovery, innovation.”

The remaining $6.9 million will go to the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority, another DBED business finance program.

State officials expect the InvestMaryland program to deliver much-needed capital and financial assistance to 200 to 400 businesses and spark interest from outside investors in individual firms and the state’s startup community as a whole.

The investments of the Maryland Venture Fund have been followed by $1 billion in private capital, according to Johansson.

InvestMaryland is a much larger injection of capital into the market. The program raised $84 million — $14 million more than expected — by auctioning $100 million in tax credits to insurance companies.

The state received the first $28 million payment this month, and will receive the same amount in 2013 and 2014.

“We’re trying to not just create assets, but create long-standing, lasting impact to the state, which will include jobs that reside here,” said Greenleaf, who is also the president of MedImmune.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Maryland’s unemployment rate ticked higher again in May as the state shed 7,500 jobs during a time of continued softness in the U.S. labor market, according to figures released Friday morning by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Despite the slight increase, Maryland’s unemployment rate remained nearly 20 percent below the national average.

Labor officials did, however, offer a glimmer of good news — April’s job loss total was revised down to 5,400 from the 6,000 that was first reported.

Maryland also received good news from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a report this week, the business group ranked Maryland as the top state for innovation and entrepreneurship due in large part to the strong research base here and the InvestMaryland program championed by Gov. Martin O’Malley last year.

The program raised $84 million this year that will be invested in young, high-tech Maryland companies.

In a statement Friday, O’Malley called the jobs report “disappointing,” but pointed to the job-creating potential of InvestMaryland and other state initiatives as part of the antidote to the ongoing economic turbulence.

“This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Maryland #1 in the nation for entrepreneurship and innovation, and in the Top 5 states for economic performance – for the third year in a row,” O’Malley said. “It is not by chance, but because of the choices we’ve made together to expand opportunity and invest in the skills, talents, innovation and education of our people so they can compete and win in the New Economy.”

The unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in May, up from 6.7 percent in April.

The natural resources, mining and construction sector took the biggest hit, some 4,600 jobs. The biggest drops within the sector were among special trade contractors, a group that includes plumbers and electricians. Despite the drop, construction employment is still higher than it was a year ago.

Professional and business services, normally a strong sector for Maryland, shed 3,100 jobs last month. Administrative and support services, a subsector, accounted for 2,600 of those lost jobs. According to labor officials, employment and temp agencies were the primary source of that decline.

The services sector was still up 11,200 jobs on the year despite the May slump.

May’s losses also sharpened the contrast between the divergent fortunes of the public and private sectors in Maryland.

Long a bulwark against the worst of economic downturns in the state, the public sector has instead become marked by months of job losses and slack hiring. Instead, it is Maryland’s private sector that is responsible for the stronger-than-average bounce back from the recession.

Since May 2011, Maryland has added 35,600 jobs, all but 700 of them in the private sector. Last month saw government employment slide by 1,300 jobs.

The unemployment rate has dropped from 7.1 percent a year ago.

The corresponding May survey of Maryland households —jobs figures are culled from a survey of businesses, but the unemployment rate comes from a survey of state residents — shows the number of unemployed people in Maryland has fallen by 10,133 over the last year.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Seven-year-old biotech firm Lentigen has found an unlikely ally in its effort to best some of the most debilitating diseases, viruses and genetic disorders.

The Gaithersburg company is using viruses to manufacture and deliver what it hopes are life-saving vaccines and therapies to patients suffering from AIDS, brain cancer and a host of other maladies.

“Think about this as a disruptive technology,” said Tim Ravenscroft, Lentigen’s CEO. “We’re not looking here at incremental improvements for patients. We’re looking at disease cures and really transforming a lot of these diseases for patients. This is not like a slight improvement on an existing therapy. We’re trying to really transform the way patients are managed.”

The key to Lentigen’s approach is lentiviral vectors, viruses that the company cooks up from scratch to accomplish their goals.

These lentiviruses are a subset of retroviruses, which hijack cells and splice in segments of DNA to force the captive cells to reproduce the virus.

“What these viruses biologically were designed to do, or evolved to do, is to enter cells and take over their genetic machinery to produce more of themselves,” Ravenscroft said. “We’ve modified that ability so that they now do what we want them to do.”

Diseases caused by single gene defects are great targets for Lentigen’s technology, Ravenscroft said.

The company is working on a therapy for hemophilia A. The genetic blood disorder leaves victims without enough of a protein essential to clotting and is treated now with regular injections to make up for the deficiency.

Lentigen’s therapy calls for stem cells to be extracted from a patient. The cells are exposed to a lentivirus of the company’s design that enters the cells and inserts DNA that will allow the cells to produce the missing protein. The stem cells are then returned to the patient who, the company hopes, will be able to produce the protein on his own.

That treatment is third in Lentigen’s therapy pipeline.

Ahead of it are a stem cell therapy for brain cancer patients and a T-cell therapy for melanoma.

Lentigen is also working on vaccine development using its lentiviruses to produce “shells” of viruses that can induce immune responses.

“This is the closest you can get to an actual infection without causing one,” Ravenscroft said.

Lentigen is moving toward an animal trial for its preventative vaccine targeting HIV/AIDS — HIV itself is a lentivirus — and is also working on a therapeutic hepatitis C vaccine.

Furthest along the pipeline is an H5N1 pandemic influenza vaccine, which Ravenscroft hopes is more effective and easier to produce than current vaccines grown in chicken eggs.

“One of the big issues with influenza is you’ve got to be able to produce the vaccine pretty fast for the next vaccine season,” he said. “Currently with the hens eggs production cycle it’s a guessing game at the beginning of the manufacturing year as to which of the strains will be prevalent. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we don’t get it right.”

Lentigen and its 24 employees are honing the company’s manufacturing capabilities.

The company has used its lentiviruses to produce diagnostic antibodies for the U.S. Army and hopes the method, which Ravenscroft said is faster and less costly than traditional options, will make Lentigen’s technology attractive to developing nations hoping to establish manufacturing operations of their own.

“It’s a field where, many years ago, the academic community got interested in this space using different vector systems,” Ravenscroft said. “They weren’t working particularly well. They were having some safety issues. With the redesign we’ve done here and other places, it’s really brought them back to life again.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Immunovaccine has come a long way. One of the newest members of Maryland’s biotech sector, the company got its start on the beaches of Nova Scotia, developing a single-dose seal contraceptive as a humane alternative to the traditional hunts held to control the seal population.

“It worked, but they ended up not using it for a number of reasons, government funding, etc.,” explained John Trizzino, the company’s new CEO. “It drove our evolution into other animal health vaccines as well as human health applications both on cancer immunotherapy and on infectious disease.”

Immunovaccine is still based in Nova Scotia but opened a Maryland office following the October appointment of Trizzino, a veteran of MedImmune and Novavax — both established names in Maryland life sciences.

The foothold in Gaithersburg gives Immunovaccine better access to the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Defense and academic research institutions like Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.

“There’s an intention for us to expand our presence here on the business development front and on the scientific side, both clinical and regulatory,” said Trizzino. “Those companies that are effective in their evolution and effective in their growth are doing collaboration with universities. I’d like to see us take more advantage of that in Maryland.”

Founded in 2000, Immunovaccine now has 24 employees.

The company’s work is based on its DepoVax technology, which combines antigens licensed from other companies or universities and adjuvants, agents that are added to drugs to increase the body’s immune response.

The antigen and adjuvant are suspended in oil and injected into the patient. The oil creates an antigen and adjuvant depot under the skin.

“You’re getting this very immediate and robust immune response,” said Trizzino. “We’re taking an adjuvant, but allowing it to linger longer in front of the body’s immune system. This prolonged exposure to the antigen and the adjuvant by virtue of this oil depot, we believe has a very profound effect to the robustness of that immune response and the long-lasting nature of that immune response.”

Trizzino said Immunovaccine has successfully demonstrated the efficacy of DepoVax across a wide range of maladies, including hepatitis B, anthrax, pertussis, “in a variety of other biodefense agents and in a couple of tropical disease candidates.”

Tests showed one dose of a H5N1 flu vaccine with Depovax is more effective than two doses without it, he said.

Trizzino said the company hopes to take an infectious disease product into Phase 1 clinical trials next year.

Immunovaccine is working on a cocaine vaccine with Weill Cornell Medical College and the company has also licensed its technology to Pfizer Animal Health for use in livestock.

The company’s most advanced work in human health is in cancer. Immunovaccine has a pair of vaccines designed to keep cancers in remission.

The first, DPX-0907, targets breast, ovarian and prostate cancers and wrapped up its first round of clinical trials last year.

DPX-Survivac is in Phase 1 trials, being tested in ovarian cancer patients.

In both cases, the vaccines use the company’s DepoVax technology in hopes of boosting the body’s ability to fight the disease.

“Immunotherapy … is not the silver bullet that’s going to eliminate cancer, but it’s another tool in the toolbox that we can use to fight the good fight against cancer,” said Trizzino.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. GlycoMimetics Inc. hopes it’s a viable form of drug development, too.

The Gaithersburg company is crafting a range of drugs that mimic the carbohydrates involved in the interactions of cells. (The molecules that mimic carbohydrates are called glycomimetics.)

The outer layer of cells and the carbohydrates that extend from them are what allows white blood cells to adhere to blood vessels at sites of inflammation and bacteria to tell a lung cell from a liver cell.

“If we can interfere with that binding, we may be able to interfere with the bacterial infection,” said Rachel King, CEO of GlycoMimetics.

The lead product in the nine-year-old company’s pipeline is a treatment for sickle cell crisis, “the most significant manifestation of sickle cell disease,” said King.

“There are not a lot of companies doing drug development in sickle cell disease,” she said. “There are a few. Most of them are trying to prevent the sickling from occurring, as opposed to our case, where we’re treating the acute crisis event.”

The crisis, also called vaso-occlusive crisis, forces 75,000 patients a year into U.S. hospitals, according to the company. It causes intense pain and organ damage over five or six days.

The treatment being developed by GlycoMimetics is designed to make the crises shorter and less severe.

“We were looking for a disease where, if the drug [works], it would be potentially transformative in terms of the way that the patients were treated,” said King. “That’s what led us to sickle cell disease because it’s such an unmet need that if this drug does work it will significantly contribute to an improvement in patient care.”

GlycoMimetics inked a deal last fall that gives the exclusive worldwide license of the compound to pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. The drug has been fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration and is in Phase 2 clinical trials in 20 U.S. and Canadian hospitals.

GlycoMimetics joined another collaborative effort in May, signing on to a group that includes the nonprofit International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and Glycosensors and Diagnostics LLC to work on an AIDS vaccine.

The group will study why some patients never transition from HIV to AIDS, and could develop a vaccine using techniques similar to those GlycoMimetics uses to disrupt the carbohydrate-dependent interactions between cells.

King said GlycoMimetics hopes to begin clinical trials on two of its own projects next year, therapies for blood cancers and pancreatic cancer for patients who are at risk of metastasis and blood clots.

The 23-person company is growing “modestly,” according to King. There is increasing interest from pharmaceutical and biotech companies large and small in the type of work the company does as well as the rare diseases it has targeted, she said.

“To my knowledge, there isn’t another company trying to do glycomimetics, per se,” she said. “We’re trying to stick close to the basic science, stick close to the biology that we affect and go after unmet needs where we’ll be able to have a significant impact.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

The plague, the flu and the terrifying-sounding, potentially cataclysmic botulinum neurotoxin — DynPort Vaccine Co. has its sights set on the lot of them.

The Frederick company develops defenses, or “medical countermeasures,” against biological agents for government agencies and the military.

“Bacteria have been spending millions of years trying to kill us,” said Robert V. House, DynPort’s president. “We’ve gotten better at evading them, but at a certain point, if somebody wants to subvert nature and use these things intentionally, then that’s a very bad thing. We don’t have the right types of countermeasures to protect us.”

Where the human body falls short in protecting itself, DynPort picks up the slack.

The company has worked on smallpox and anthrax and is now developing vaccines for the plague and botulinum neurotoxin. Both are in Phase 2 clinical trials.

The 14-year-old company has also partnered with Baxter International on seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines.

“There’s very little precedent for a lot of the work that we do,” House said.

The bubonic plague, spread by fleas, killed an estimated 25 million people in medieval Europe. DynPort’s vaccine targets pneumonic plague, an airborne form of the disease.

“When the disease is spread … through the air, it becomes a much more dangerous disease,” he said. “It kills you very quickly.”

Botulinum neurotoxin could be even more dangerous.

“It is one of the deadliest known poisons on the planet,” House said. “I have read estimates that if you could effectively distribute it, a thimble-full would be enough to kill about half of the country.”

As busy as medical countermeasure development has kept DynPort’s 90 employees, House hopes to broaden the company’s focus.

“We’re also going to be moving into adjacent business areas to supplement biodefense,” he said. “Biodefense is still extremely important, but there are a lot of companies that are starting to do biodefense now and I don’t think we’ll be successful by being a ‘Me too’ company. We need to find other areas we can be successful in as well.”

House has been eyeing malaria and parasitic diseases such as SARS and drug-resistant tuberculosis as potential targets of new DynPort projects.

Globalization and international travel and migration have broadened the impact of diseases that were once thought to be contained in developing nations, House said.

But for now, as a fully owned subsidiary of CSC, most of DynPort’s work is for the Department of Defense.

“The genie’s out of the bottle. It’s not something we can go back and un-invent. The technologies are increasingly allowing us to have a hand in our own destruction,” House said. “That’s one of the things that we feel is so important about our work. Since that threat will always be there, there will always be a need for the type of work that we do.”