BioWorld International Correspondent

ZICHRON YA'AKOV, Israel - Quark Biotech Inc. (QBI) and its research arm, QBI Enterprises Ltd., laid off 30 to 40 of its 150 employees in Israel, as the company makes a growth transition from research to drug development and marketing, said QBI CEO and Founder Daniel Zurr.

The layoffs in Israel would be offset by hiring the same number of people in the U.S., he said.

QBI Enterprises, of Ness-Ziona, Israel, is considered Israel's entity most likely to bring a drug to market. QBI is privately financed and directed by a roster of investors and scientists, including Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison, who early on placed $50 million into the company, and Nobel Prize laureate in physiology and medicine (1958) Joshua Lederberg, former president of Rockefeller University in New York.

Zurr said: "As we enter the stage of preclinical and clinical trials, we need to reduce our activities in Israel because Israel lacks suitable personnel to run these trials. The changes are regrettable, but inevitable, and I would have been happy to be able to conduct the trials in Israel."

Former QBI Chief Scientist Paz Einat (who resigned in March to join Rosetta Genomics Ltd. in Rehovot) agreed. He pointed out that Teva Pharmaceuticals Ltd., of Jerusalem, is the only Israeli company to produce an ethical drug from research through marketing, that drug being Copaxone, for multiple sclerosis.

Einat also told BioWorld International that QBI's main manpower is in the U.S. gearing up for trials, including new President of U.S. operations Boaz Laor, who oversaw the move of all business and research activities to new headquarters located on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio.

Chicago-based QBI's technology platform has brought the company numerous contracts aimed at developing pharmaceutical products for cancer, fibrotic diseases, cardiovascular and ischemic diseases, stroke, osteoporosis and diabetes, said QBI Vice President of Research and Development Rami Scaliter. He said the company is in the design stage of multicenter clinical trials for QBI's most advanced lead product, for Type II diabetes.