The Download: Human Genome Sciences layoffs will continue into next year

October 21, 2012

The job cuts continue at Rockville-based Human Genome Sciences as the biotechnology company folds its employees and operations into those of the British drugmaker that bought the firm this summer.

The latest round of cuts targets 97 employees who were notified of the decision last week. The firm also warned that additional reductions would be announced in November and during the next calendar year.

The eliminated positions come from both the science and business sides of the firm.

The “internal restructuring” was disclosed in a letter sent on Oct. 15 to Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which requires firms in the state to disclose large staff cuts as part of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

Last month, the company said it would terminate 114 employees starting Oct. 30 in what has been described as the first phase of cuts. Human Genome Sciences counted 1,200 employees at the end of last year with the majority of them based in Maryland.

GlaxoSmithKline paid $3.6 billion for Human Genome Sciences in July after a lengthy and often contentious struggle for control of the firm. The two were development partners on Benlysta, a drug to treat systemic lupus, that received Food and Drug Administration approval in March 2011.

Name game

The Landover-based online education company formerly known as 2tor has renamed itself 2U in an effort to shake misconceptions that the company provides hands-on learning to students, said chief executive Chip Paucek.

“It’s a challenge to have the name imply something we’re not,” he said. “We are not a tutoring company and we don’t teach the students.”

2U creates online versions of the academic programs offered by brick-and-mortar colleges, allowing them to expand enrollment without adding desks and buildings. Georgetown University, for example, started a Web-based nursing degree last year.

The company provides the technology and marketing backbone of the programs, and the universities design the curriculum and employ the instructors. The old moniker — derived from the founder’s deceased dog “Tor” — left the impression that 2U does the teaching, he said.

Paucek explained the rationale in a telephone interview from Dublin. The executive is there to attend a conference and meet with European universities about exporting its Web-based programs across the Atlantic.

“We’ve recruited internationally for American schools, but we have not done a deal yet with a non-U.S. institution,” Paucek said. “But we will, it’s just a matter of time.”

The firm is also quickly expanding its head count in Landover, which became the official headquarters this year. Paucek said there are roughly 30 open positions in fields such as marketing, finance and operations.

Chi-town calling

Venture capital house New Enterprise Associates said last week it will open its fourth U.S. office in Chicago, putting down roots along the banks of Lake Michigan after investing money there for two decades.

NEA has pumped more than $300 million into 20 companies headquartered in the Windy City, the firm said, with one of its most notable investments being daily deal company Groupon.

“This city’s entrepreneurs have transformed traditional industries, like advertising and logistics, and today are shaping new ones, like social media and mobile payments,” managing general partner Peter Barris said in a statement. “Establishing an office will help us serve our growing portfolio and become even more deeply rooted in Chicago’s flourishing tech community.”

The decision was announced last week in conjunction with Chicago mayor and former Obama administration chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

NEA is among the Washington region’s largest and most active venture firms. Its portfolio of local companies includes data analytics firm AddThis, event management software maker Cvent and online education purveyor EverFi.

NEA also maintains offices in Menlo Park, Calif., and New York City, as well as affiliate operations in Shanghai and Beijing, and Bangalore and Mumbai in India.

Smart seeds

Last week’s installment of The Download told you the winners of the early-stage pitch competition at Distilled Intelligence, a venture capital contest now in its second year.

But those were only the first-day prizes.

The winners from the Oct. 12 seed-stage competition were announced after Capital Business went to press.The companies were seeking as much as $100,000 from the room of investors.

The top three winners were:

Cont3nt.com won the top prize: A check for $35,000. The company bills itself as “an eBay for breaking news,” allowing media companies and freelance journalists to upload photos and video that news organizations can then purchase.

Second-place finisher Aquicore aims to help residential and commercial property owners save on their energy bills and maintenance costs by monitoring and suggesting ways to reduce usage. The firm collected $10,000.

Kahnoodle took home the third-place title and a check for $5,000. The start-up provides couples with a place to swap thank you notes, find deals on date activities, keep a private relationship journal and receive reminders on how to keep the relationship fresh.

The money comes from the coffers of event organizer Fortify.vc and was presented in the form of a convertible security.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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