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Biotech—Firm follows IBM lead in local biotech investment

Invitrogen Eyes Future as Global Market Leader in Molecular Biology Supplies

Another major firm made an equity investment in Structural Bioinformatics Inc., just two weeks after IBM Life Sciences joined the Rancho Bernardo-based biotechnology firm in their race to develop protein structures faster and more cheaply.

Teterboro N.J.-based Quest Diagnostics Inc., which provides gene-based medical testing, information and services to doctors, said Dec. 14 it made an undisclosed investment in Structural Bioinformatics.

The deal marks an expansion of an alliance signed back in July 1999 to develop a database of viral proteins.

The database known as “Variome” depicts more than 30,000 virtual representations of protein structures of HIV drugs.

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Scientists need such information to move HIV- research forward.

“Every single HIV patient has slight differences in their viral genes, because the virus is known to mutate frequently,” said Edward T. Maggio, chairman, president and CEO of Structural Bioinformatics. “As a result, different drugs work differently in different patients. Our goal is to understand those differences so that the proper drug can be given to each patient and to develop new drugs that suit patients with different viral genes.”

Additionally, the data helps researchers understand why one drug works in one patient and not in another patient.

This knowledge in turn is useful in designing drugs that are likely to be safe and more effective for human testing.

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New Business Plan: Carlsbad-based Invitrogen Inc. has laid out a new business plan company officials hope will make it the global market leader in molecular biology supplies.

According to company estimates the worldwide market for molecular biology tools will rise to $1.7 billion in 2001 from $1.4 billion in 2000.

Invitrogen unveiled its new business plan on Dec. 7 one week after it notified 150 employees they would be laid off.

The layoffs were a result from the firm’s merger with Connecticut-based Dexter Corp. and its Life Technologies Inc. unit in September.

The restructuring plan calls for Invitrogen to close Invitrogen units in Rockville, Md., Buffalo N.Y., and Europe, said Dan Peoples, an Invitrogen spokesman.

Invitrogen will focus its efforts on two lines of business , a molecular biology unit and a cell culture unit.

Invitrogen anticipates more than doubling its sales in 2001 to $652 million from $247 million last year.

Invitrogen said 2001 sales will be driven by its molecular business unit.

Three-fourth of all sales are expected to come from the molecular business unit; one-third will come from the cell culture business, Invitrogen predicted.

The firm said the molecular biology business will grow by 21 percent every year. This compares to 4 percent in the cell culture arena. For 2000, Invitrogen estimates $36 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation and $145 million in 2001.

That is excluding merger costs of $240.3 million. The actual annual results for 2000 will be published late January, said a spokesman.

Send biotech news to Webb at mwebb @sdbj.com.


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