NEW YORK, NOV. 12 -- Genex Corp. has received a major design patent for a new class of bioengineered proteins, an award that analysts say could prove critical in returning the financially troubled Gaithersburg biotechnology firm to profitability.
The announcement was one of several made today by the company's president, Gary Frashier, at a meeting with industry analysts in New York. The analysts' meeting -- the company's first in 3 1/2 years -- was part of an effort to persuade Wall Street that Genex can regain the position it held in the early 1980s as one of the nation's most promising biotechnology companies.
"Our feeling is that we can break even by 1990," Frashier told the analysts. After losses last year of $12 million, Genex said earlier this week that it had lost $1.7 million for the first nine months of this year.
Frashier said the company is on the verge of formalizing a joint venture with a major manufacturer to commercialize special bioengineered, nontoxic, water-resistant adhesives that could have wide application for use in surgery, routine dental work and the electronics industry.
Frashier also expanded on Genex's announcement earlier this week of plans to acquire Xydex Corp., a privately held Massachusetts biotech firm. The acquisition will allow Genex to match its specialty proteins with the complementary medical devices developed and marketed by Xydex, Frashier said. Xydex's existing sales force and marketing network to pharmaceutical firms will help provide a pipeline for Genex's products as well, accelerating Genex's entry into the booming market for diagnostic kits for infectious diseases, he said.
Frashier joined Genex in April, taking charge of a company still reeling from the loss two years ago of a lucrative contract with G.D. Searle Co. to produce aspartame, the key ingredient in the low-calorie sweetener NutraSweet. In seeking to reverse the company's fortunes, Frashier has brought in a number of experienced managers and shifted Genex's attention to applied biotechnology products produced through protein engineering, one of the most advanced of all biotech manufacturing technologies.
The patent awarded to Genex this week could give the company a window on the huge, potentially multibillion-dollar market for monoclonal antibodies, the bread-and-butter product of the fledgling biotechnology industry.
Monoclonal antibodies are mass-produced, bioengineered copies of the naturally occurring human proteins that play a key role in the immune system. They have a wide variety of applications in everything from the diagnosis of diseases such as AIDS to the treatment of various forms of cancer.
What Genex has patented is a computer-based artificial intelligence system to design an improved version of monoclonals, which the company has dubbed single-chain proteins. The new proteins have yet to undergo formal testing, but company officials said today that initial laboratory work suggests that they are less toxic and more clinically effective than monoclonal antibodies.
Most important, Frashier said, the company could produce single-chain proteins at a "substantial" price advantage.
"The biggest limitation of industry's use of monoclonals right now is cost," said Bill Topp, who runs Biotech Associates, an analysis firm in Princeton, N.J. "The things are $1,000 a gram. If they can make them more cheaply, that'll mean a lot.