WORCESTER, Mass. - Nearly 350 people crowded into a circus-style tent here on Wednesday, erected next to the newest and largest,biotechnology research and development facility in this state, whichalready boasts of a 149-biotech-company community.They assembled for the dedication of BASF's wholly ownedBiomedical Research Center (BBC) in this city's biotechnology park,said to be the largest park of its kind in the country.BASF (originally "Bavarian Analine and Soda Works") is a chemicaland pharmaceutical giant (sales exceeded $5 billion last year) inLudwigshafen, Germany. Its BBC subsidiary here is the company'sfirst research and development venture outside of Germany.BASF chose to locate its new research and development headquartershere in 1990, after Germany passed its "gene law," restrictingbiotechnology research and manufacture. (See BioWorld Today, July2, 1993, p. 1.) Though that legislation has since been modified, BBC'spresident, Robert Kamen said "It's still a problem to do biotechproduction in Germany. Research is encumbered by paper work, butour biotechnology group in Ludwigshafen still prospers."He confirmed that the five-level, 370,000-square-foot BBCheadquarters building here cost $84 million, with land (a 31-acre tract)and capital equipment bringing total outlay to more than $95 million.Although every level of state and local government providedencouragement, "no financial incentives were requested or granted."But Worcester's mayor Raymond Mariano acclaimed BASF's"significant" infusion of jobs and tax revenue. Of the 155 newemployees, all were recruited locally.Attendees included Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, and a cohort ofbiotech supplier-company sales representatives. Many of them, such asPerkin-Elmer and Applied Biotechnology, had helped equip thecenter's laboratories.Opening the dedication ceremony, Kamen told the gathering: "We lookforward in our work in this superb new facility to develop newproducts that we hope will prolong life and alleviate suffering." BBChas two prime focuses: cancer and immunologic diseases.Hans Schenck, chairman of BASF's parent company's pharmaceuticalarm, Knoll AG, told the audience about recombinant hirudin, the firstproduct of biotechnology now being manufactured here."Hirudin," he said, "a substance produced by leeches to prevent bloodfrom clotting, is not very stable, so BASF researchers have added PEG- polyethylene glycol - and created PEG-hirudin." This anti-thrombotic, Schenck said, "slows down blood clotting 10 times moreeffectively than natural hirudin, and can be used for treating cardiacinfarction in patients.Kamen told BioWorld Today that the first batches of PEG-hirudin tomeet good-manufacturing standards "started in our pilot plant onSaturday [April 9]." He added that Phase II trials of the anti-coagulantare under way now in Europe, and should begin soon in the U.S. PEG-hirudin would replace heparin in cardiovascular therapy.Kamen cited another therapeutic product on BBC's front researchburner:MAK195F, a murine monoclonal antibody against tumor necrosisfactor-alpha, completed a Phase II study in sepsis, "and reported ratherencouraging results at a sepsis meeting in Amsterdam a few weeksago," he said."We discovered that if we subdivided patients according to their levelsof interleukin-6 upon entry into the trial, those with very high IL-6titers - about 35 percent - appeared to be benefited by a largereduction in mortality." The trial enrolled only 127 patients, "not alarge enough study to be conclusive, but it certainly encourages us togo on to Phase III."Beyond this is a human antibody, also against TNF-alpha, "butpossibly for different indications."Before joining BBC as president in June 1991, Kamen was senior vicepresident, scientific affairs at Genetics Institute, Inc. (GI), inCambridge, Mass. The recombinant products originating from his workat GI included erythropoietin, marketed by Chugai of Japan, andBoehringer Mannheim; GM-CSF, by Sandoz and Schering Plough, andantihemophilic factor, marketed by Baxter worldwide.
-- By David N. Leff Science Editor
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