BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - The news that Genset SA's vice president of physiological genomics, Bernard Bihain, was leaving to join the biotechnology company ValiGen, only a week after Genset announced a 55 percent increase in its annual loss, sent the Paris-based genomics company's share price tumbling on the Paris stock market.

Bihain was closely associated with the discovery of Famoxin, Genset's anti-obesity compound, on which the company published preclinical data in mid-February demonstrating the drug's efficacy in mouse models. At the same time, it announced a major shift in corporate strategy away from pure genomics research toward drug discovery. (See BioWorld International, Feb. 14, 2001.)

Bihain, who worked out of San Diego, the headquarters of Genset Inc., where the company's metabolic disorders research group is based, sought to disassociate himself from the sensationalistic fashion in which Genset SA announced the Famoxin data. That not only won it mentions on national television, but also prompted a sharp rise in the company's share price on the Nouveau Marchi in Paris.

But that rise was more than wiped out by the market's response to the company's financial results and the departure of Bihain. After reaching EUR60 following the Famoxin announcement, Genset's share price dropped 18.7 percent Feb. 21, after the 2000 results were announced, and plunged by a further 37 percent when news of Bihain's quitting broke. After bottoming out in early March at EUR17.80, Genset's shares are now trading at around EUR20, well over 50 percent down since the beginning of the year and nowhere in sight of the EUR186 level they were at a year ago, at the height of the euphoria surrounding high-tech shares on the French market.

Commenting on Bihain's decision to "accept a higher-level position at another company," Genset's CEO, André Pernet, confirmed that the company's "research programs on Famoxin and several other proteins continue on course." Genset is planning to start clinical trials of Famoxin before the year end and said it has received "firm offers from recognized companies to manufacture Famoxin within the existing time frame for clinical trials."