Oncor hires firm to find rich partner Lehman Bros. retained to seek capital for marketing products; Genetic tests for cancer; Company that has lost money since '96 feels it has something to sell

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Oncor Inc., which markets genetic tests for cancer and other diseases, said yesterday that it has retained Lehman Brothers, the New York investment banking house, to explore "strategic alternatives, especially landing a well-heeled corporate partner.

"Our real objective in hiring Lehman is to find a corporate partner to help us with our capital requirements. We want to fuel the fire so we can go forward," said Stephen Turner, chairman of Oncor.

Turner said the Gaithersburg company selected Lehman Brothers because of its expertise in health care and its recent track record packaging "creative" marriages between cash-rich pharmaceutical houses and technology-rich companies.

Lehman, for example, put together a deal in which the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Holding took a majority position in Genentech, the California biotechnology company.

The deal includes an option allowing Roche to buy the rest of Genentech's stock by 1999.

Lehman had no immediate comment on the agreement with Oncor.

But Turner hopes Oncor's new breast cancer test will help the company's search for a rich partner.

The company expects Food and Drug Administration approval this year of a test to predict a recurrence of breast cancer. New data on the test was submitted to the FDA June 10.

If finally approved, the test would be the first gene-based test available in the United States to predict the recurrence of breast cancer.

A well known pharmaceutical company could boost Oncor's chances of marketing the test successfully.

The company already has FDA approval to market DNA-based tests for leukemia, lymphoma and bone marrow cancer.

Oncor said it is developing gene tests for lung, bladder, cervical and colon cancers.

Oncor posted a first-quarter 1997 loss of $8 million, or 32 cents a share, on revenue of $3.3 million in the quarter ending March 31.

By comparison, the company lost $6.6 million, or 30 cents a share, on revenue of $4.2 million in the first quarter of 1996.

Oncor posted a net loss of $29 million on sales of $16 million in 1996.

The company has about $16 million in cash available, said Turner, enough to keep the company afloat two years without another cash infusion.

Pub Date: 6/17/97

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