MicroProbe Corp. announced Tuesday that it is acquiring Ribonetics GmbH/Ltd., a German start-up biotechnology company focused on development of oligonucleotides.

MicroProbe (NASDAQ:MPRO) will pay $1.5 million in cash and 515,837 shares of its common stock to acquire all of Ribonetics' stock and certain technology of Animal Biotechnology Cambridge Ltd., a shareholder of Ribonetics located in Cambridge, England. (MicroProbe's stock closed at $5 a share on Tuesday, up 25 cents.) The technology involves biological test systems that employ human cell lines.

Ribonetics of Gottingen, Germany, is developing oligonucleotides called Rilons that are designed to act like enzymes to destroy specific messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules, thereby stopping the synthesis of proteins that cause human diseases.

MicroProbe said this technology would complement its own Anti-Gene technology for development of therapeutics that bind to and inactivate the DNA of disease-associated genes, as well as its protein-blocker technology for inhibition of proteins central to the growth and reproduction of cells and viruses.

Ribonetics' technology and MicroProbe's Anti-Gene technology are in the cell-culture phase. MicroProbe's protein blockers are in animal studies.

Harvey Hoyt, MicroProbe's chief executive officer, said the acquisition of Ribonetics "provides MicroProbe with a larger technology base to attract major corporate partners." He told BioWorld that MicroProbe has been in discussions with several U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers and hopes to formalize a partnership in 1994.

Hoyt said Ribonetics' newly completed European facilities should ultimately enable MicroProbe to manufacture sufficient quantities of oligonucleotides for animal and clinical testing.

To allow completion of the acquisition within the time limits imposed by the sellers and to finalize its due diligence, MicroProbe of Bothell, Wash., said it has arranged for a 90-day period, ending March 2, 1994, during which it can sell Ribonetics to David Blech "on the same financial terms as this acquisition." Blech was one of the co-underwriters for MicroProbe's initial public offering, which raised $16.5 million in September.

Ribonetics was founded in November 1992 by Herbert Stadler, founding director of Biometra GmbH and former head of neurochemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and Gunter Schmidt, previously associate director of biochemistry and physiology at Merck Sharpe & Dohme. MicroProbe said that after the acquisition it anticipates that Stadler and Schmidt will be nominated to MicroProbe's board of directors.

-- Brenda Sandburg News Editor

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