Scios Nova to shut plant in East Baltimore


Scios Nova Inc. said yesterday that it will close its East Baltimore drug research laboratory, where 63 workers are employed, after two of its key drugs stumbled in preclinical trials.

Scios Nova said it would consolidate its research efforts in Mountain View, Calif., where it is based. The company picked up the Baltimore facility when it acquired Nova Pharmaceutical Corp. in 1992.

The company said about 20 open positions in California will be offered to Baltimore-based researchers, while 43 positions are slated for elimination. Scios Nova said it would keep about 20 employees in Baltimore to work in its commercial operations and clinical development positions.

The company expects to take a $5.5 million charge against earnings to reduce the value of its assets and for relocation expenses and the cost of severance benefits.

The company's stock closed down 62.5 cents in trading yesterday at $7.25.

Scios Nova Chief Executive Richard L. Casey said employees slated for layoffs over the next two months had been expected to guide two of the company's primary research products -- bradykinin antagonists and leukocyte adhesion inhibitor drugs -- through the human clinical trials, which are required before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows drugs on the market.

Bradykinin antagonists prevent inflammation by inhibiting the growth of a protein called bradykinin. Leukocyte adhesion inhibitors block the movement of excess white blood cells into tissues where they can cause swelling, Scios Nova spokeswoman Kira Bacon said.

But given the disappointing research results, the company believes its anti-inflammation drugs are now two to four years away from any human clinical trials, Mr. Casey said.

"The two lead products have dropped out -- they haven't done well -- so we are back to the research stages," Mr. Casey said. "We had a lot of employees here with nothing to do."

Mr. Casey said the leukocyte drugs were put on hold because pre-clinical testing of Scios Nova's latest leukocyte compounds showed only a narrow range of dosages big enough to be effective but small enough not to be toxic. The bradykinin antagonist program was sidetracked because the compounds tested were not effective enough on animals to warrant human clinical trials, he said.

Other companies have had the same problems as Scios Nova with drugs based on bradykinin antagonists, Mr. Casey said. In July, Denver-based Cortech Inc. said its Bradycor drug did not work effectively in human trials on sepsis patients.

"At this point, there is not a bradykinin antagonist on the market," she said. The technology "has been hard on investors," a spokeswoman for Cortech said.

Yesterday's announcement marked a significant setback for Scios Nova's acquisition of Nova Pharmaceutical. The former Baltimore-based company was known for the inflammation drugs and for its central nervous system research. The neurological research was even further from producing commercially viable drugs, and is now being conducted by Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Baltimore, which Scios spun off to the public last year.

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