GAINESVILLE, Ga. … Elan Corp. plans to spend $40 million to expand its pharmaceutical production plant, which also will add 100 jobs to the site.

In other regional biotech news, Durham-based Nobex will collaborate with Pharmacia on oral drug delivery, Charles Hamner, the retiring president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, has been honored for his efforts with the center and will speak at an upcoming roundtable session, the American Cancer Society awarded $19 million in research grants to scientists in the Carolinas and Georgia and a University of North Carolina genomics symposium in April will feature a Nobel-prize winning speaker.

Ireland-based Elan now produces two drugs at the Gainesville plant: Verelan and Verelan PM, the company’s formulations of the calcium channel blocker verapamil, a recognized treatment of essential hypertension. The plant also has obtained U.S. Food and Drug Administration pre-approval to produce two more drugs.

The expansion will almost triple the size of the plant, to 150,000 square feet, and will increase the payroll to 280 people, according to the company.

Nobex deal
Nobex Corp. will team up with Swedish drug giant Pharmacia to help improve oral delivery of an unidentified Pharmacia drug. Nobex, which specializes in medical chemistry that optimizes delivery of therapeutic drugs, will chemically modify the Pharmacia protein in a way that creates one or more new compound candidates for clinical development.

The Nobex technology adds significant therapeutic benefits compared to the unmodified drug, including greater resistance to break down in the body and better absorption, according to the company. These changes make the drug more “patient-friendly” and increase its market potential, says Dr. Jennifer Filbey, executive director of business
development for Nobex.

Financial terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, but Pharmacia will fund the Nobex research and has an option to license the modified drug.

Privately held Nobex focuses on enabling oral delivery of drugs previously only available via injection. The company currently has two product in clinical study: oral insulin for diabetes and oral calcitonin for osteoporosis. A third product for inflammatory bowel disease is
expected to enter clinical study this year.

Hamner honored

State officials have presented Hamner with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest award, for his dedication and service to the center. Lt. Gov. Beverly Purdue made the presentation Sunday at a gathering of 200 state leaders in government, academia and industry.

Hamner, who will retire March 31, will be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Triad Biotech Roundtable on April 18. The two-hour event will be held in the Piedmont Triad Community Research Center.

A reception will be held at Piedmont Triad Research Park’s One Technology Place, which is home to Targacept, an R.J. Reynolds spin-off seeking therapeutic uses that involve the brain’s nicotine receptors. Tours of the company’s headquarters and labs will be available during the reception.

Registrations can be made online at www.nctriadbiotech.org.

Cancer Society research grants

The American Cancer Society Southeast Division has awarded 49 grants totaling
$19 million to researchers working in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The amount is a record for the Cancer Society in the region.

Thirty grants totaling $10.3 million were dedicated to research in North Carolina at Duke
University, Duke University Medical Center, East Carolina University, Research Triangle
Institute, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro and Wake Forest University. Three researchers at the University of South Carolina were awarded a total of $882,000.

In Georgia, 16 grants totaling $7.6 million were awarded to researchers at Emory University, Emory University Hospital, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Morehouse School of Medicine and the University of Georgia.

The Cancer Society is the largest private, not-for-profit source of funding for scientists studying cancer. Since 1946, when the research program began, more than $2.3 billion in grants have been awarded.

UNC genomics conference

“Exploring Medicine in the Post-Genome World,” is the topic of a special symposium set
for April 19-20 at UNC’s Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

Dr. Lee Hartwell, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for his
discoveries on the regulation of the cell cycle, is a featured speaker. Hartwell is director
of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Francis Collins, a 1977 UNC grad and director of the National Human Genome Research
Institute at the National Institutes of Health, will also speak.

The event highlights the UNC School of Medicine’s Spring Medical Center 50th anniversary celebration.

More information is available from the UNC Office of Continuing Medical Education at (919) 843-6382.