BioWhittaker optimistic over three new products


Despite marketing problems with its allergy diagnostic tests, BioWhittaker Inc. is working on three new products that the company predicts could eventually double its revenues.

The Frederick County company also expects to see continued growth in the sale of its existing products, particularly in Europe, where it is building a manufacturing facility. It has also established a partnership with a major German health care company, BioWhittaker Chairman Joseph W. Alibrandi said yesterday at the annual meeting of shareholders in Walkersville.

In the short run, however, the company is trying to recover from the reduction in sales of its allergy test kits. The market virtually dried up recently because of a change in federal law that prohibited physicians who are not specially trained from using the kits in their offices.

The company is hoping to overcome the loss by developing an automated system for allergy testing that would be sold to large clinical laboratories, which have picked up the market from private physicians.

BioWhittaker reported recently that its income fell to $535,000, or 5 cents a share, in the quarter that ended Jan. 31, from $1.1 million, or 10 cents a share, a year earlier. Sales dropped slightly to $11.9 million, from $12.1 million over the same period.

The company's stock, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, closed yesterday at $8.75 a share, unchanged.

Mr. Alibrandi said BioWhittaker hopes to capitalize on last month's news implicating a bacteria, called H. pulori, as a cause of ulcers. The study showed that ulcer patients with the bacteria in their stomachs could be cured of the problem with antibiotics.

Two years ago, BioWhittaker began marketing a test for the bacteria, but Mr. Alibrandi said sales have been slow because physicians did not believe the bacteria caused ulcers. The company estimated that 20 million patients a year could benefit from the test, but did not provide potential revenue figures.

The company also is developing a test for autoimmune diseases and a two-hour diagnostic test for sepsis, an infection that kills about 100,000 people a year. The current sepsis test takes 48 hours, and a patient can die before the results are known. Mr. Alibrandi said the company hoped to begin clinical studies soon on the sepsis test.

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