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BioVeris CEO acquires Advanced Vision Therapies

Awardee Story BioVeris CEO acquires Advanced Vision Therapies
Date: Jan 30, 2006
Author: Neil Adler
Source: bizjournals ( click here to go to the source)

The man who helped create one of the world's largest biotechnology companies has paid an undisclosed amount for a majority stake in a promising Maryland biotech business.

Sam Wohlstadter, a longtime venture capitalist in the biotechnology industry and chairman and CEO of Gaithersburg-based BioVeris, is now the majority owner of Advanced Vision Therapies, a Rockville startup searching for a new home and a bunch more employees.

Advanced Vision Therapies (www.avtxinc.com), led by former executives of pharmaceutical giant Novartis, is working to develop and commercialize novel treatments for serious eye diseases, which experts say represent a multibillion-dollar market. The company has five employees and plans to add 20 to 30 as it gets ready for clinical trials of its lead drug candidate by the end of next year.

"This brings us scientific expertise and business management experience," says Michael Kaleko, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Advanced Vision Therapies.

Kaleko told the Business Journal last year he hoped to land between $3 million and $5 million in new financing sometime in late 2005 or early 2006.

Experts say that because of Advanced Vision Therapies' small size and preclinical pipeline, Wohlstadter likely paid less than $10 million for his majority stake. He couldn't be reached for comment.

Wohlstadter has a track record of building biotechs.

He co-founded Amgen, one of the world's most successful biotech companies, as well as Applied Biosystems, a research products company that has the same owner as Rockville-based Celera. Amgen and Applied Biosystems, both based in California, are considered pioneers in the U.S. biotech sector.

Wohlstadter, who has been investing in biotech companies for more than 25 years, also founded Igen International of Gaithersburg in 1982 and led the company until its merger with Roche two years ago. That merger spawned the creation of BioVeris. Wohlstadter also is CEO of two other Gaithersburg companies: Wellstat Therapeutics and Wellstat Biologics.

Advanced Vision Therapies, unlike some of those companies, still has a ways to go to get to market. It has been occupying space at the Maryland Technology Development Center, an incubator for emerging biotech and high-tech firms, but is ready to go out on its own.

"It's time to hatch," Kaleko says.

Company executives are looking for about 12,000 square feet of lab and office space in Montgomery County, most likely along the Interstate 270 corridor. Rockville-based Scheer Partners (www.scheerpartners.com) is helping with the search. The company will move sometime this year, Kaleko says.

Advanced Vision Therapies, founded in 2003, is focused on diseases that cause significant vision loss and blindness, including age-related macular degeneration, which affects about 1.8 million Americans age 40 and older -- a number expected to grow to 2.9 million by 2020.

The startup's lead product would treat patients with wet age-related macular degeneration, the more aggressive form of the disease.

Analysts say new treatments for vision loss could be lucrative.

"Vision is a major baby boomer problem," says John McCamant, editor of the Medical Technology Stock Letter, a biotech investment publication. "It's a pure demographic play."

Industry leader Genentech of San Francisco and GenVec of Gaithersburg are among the companies hoping to bring similar drugs to market.

Says McCamant: "There's definitely room for multiple players."

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