Bethesda Research Laboratories Inc., a Montgomery County biotechnology firm that laid off more than one-third of its work force earlier this year, has named a chief operating officer.

The company announced that M. James Barrett, former president of the clinical laboratories division of SmithKline Beckman, took over the new post effective yesterday.

"My guess is they're strengthening the interaction between the business and the science," said M. Kathy Behrens, an analyst for Sutro Group of San Francisco. Behrens said that Barrett's background will give the firm additional strength in two areas it has chosen to emphasize--diagnostics and the supply business.

Barrett spent 13 years with SmithKline Beckman. Before moving to the clinical laboratories division, he was president of SmithKline's diagnostics division.

BRL, a six-year-old company that grew phenomenally until this year, has been retrenching and restructuring its business since the beginning of this year. In addition to the layoffs, the company also scrapped plans to move to additional facilities in Frederick County.

BRL representative Michelle Hartz said the new position is part of the continuing restructuring. "The business has grown, and we needed someone to be here to be chief operating officer," she said. Stephen C. Turner will continue as president.

Hartz said that the company will have sales in excess of $18 million this year--an anticipated increase of at least 70 percent.

Behrens said that the regrouping going on at BRL is "not unique at all" in the biotechnology industry. In the past year, raising funds has been tougher for an industry that dazzled investors in its early years.