Editor’s note: BioWatch is a regular feature on Fridays.Max Wallace, former president and CEO of Cogent Neuroscience, which shutdown last year when it could not close a later venture round, says he’s “pretending to enjoy retirement.” But his entrepreneurial genes want him to keep moving.

Wallace recently joined the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University as a senior fellow in innovation. “You know me, I have opinions I express and the Institute called my bluff and said if you think some things would benefit from some work, come join us.”

An avid photographer, Wallace says he did take quite a few pictures on a recent trip to Northern California but hasn’t had time to run them through his darkroom yet. Meanwhile, he’s making the rounds with Noah Pickus, director of the Institute, sharing his test-tube rack of ideas.

Wallace says he accepted the unpaid position to “explore and make some impact in leadership issues in this rapidly changing economic environment. North Carolina’s economy is undergoing a sea change, moving away from furniture, textiles and tobacco with pockets of high tech and banking.

“Everything in the state can’t be high tech,” says Wallace, “but there is a movement to innovative approaches toward business, moving into high tech textiles, for instance, moving upstream.”

Wallace says this is also changing the pattern of business leadership in the state. “It’s changing from a small number of leaders with great charisma and force such as Hugh McColl at Bank of America in Charlotte or Jim Hunt here in the Triangle. The new economy is built on networks.”

Wallace says his job at the Institute is to find ways to bring new economy leaders across the state together in ways that makes good use of their limited time. “You have to remember that corporate citizenship is not even in the grading criteria venture capitalists or public markets use to judge a CEO’s performance,” he says.

Wallace has not completely deserted the regional biotech scene, either. He and a former founding partner of Cogent, Don Ho, are “exploring some new ideas in biotech,” he says. Wallace has talked about the need for an innovative new paradigm to nurture biotech startups at several venues in the past.

Ho, who invented the Cogent technology at Duke University, is currently back in his laboratory there along with several other Cogent alumni. “They’re playing off what they learned at Cogent,” Wallace says.

Early Stage Relief in Sight?

Industry analysts agree that the public markets for biotech IPOs won’t open for a year, if then. But one local VC says earlier stage companies may get funds if they’re willing to take flat or slight up rounds.

So says Garheng Kong of Intersouth Partners. Kong was one of many local biotech stalwarts who attended last month’s A.M. Pappas sponsored symposium on biotech investing, where industry experts noted the bottleneck in the public markets for new biotech offerings shows no signs of opening.

“It’s true that the public markets for biotech are not getting better,” Kong tells Local Tech Wire. “But the A and B round early stage markets are getting healthier for people willing to do flat or slight step-up rounds.” That means start-up valuations offered by venture capitalists will only inch up slightly if at all.

But, Kong says that’s an improvement. “For the last 18 months, companies didn’t get anything but down rounds,” he says. Kong says the improving climate won’t help those later stage companies looking for big, pre-IPO mezzanine rounds. “They won’t turnaround until the public market is there because they’re so close,” Kong says.

Too Much Biotech?

Numerous execs from information technology companies griped about the large number of biotech presentations at the recent Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s Venture 2003 conference. CED President Monica Doss tells LTW: “We don’t try to balance the presenting companies between biotech and IT. The lineup this year is heavy on biotech partly because companies cannot present two years in a row.”

That didn’t stop one IT exec from quipping on the second day of the conference, “If I hear any more about drugs I’m going to need one.” From the way he slapped his forehead, we’re sure he meant medicinal, such as an aspirin, rather than recreational.

Controlling blood clotting

Sometime back we reported here about Regado, the Duke University spin out that is developing a blood thinner with a built-in off-switch to help regulate it. A growing number of companies are trying to give doctors ways to access and control blood clotting for a wide range of patients.

Now, Immucor Inc. (Nasdaq:BLUD) of Norcross, GA, has signed a deal with the University of Vermont to commercialize a test-tube diagnostic test to measure markers useful in anti-platelet (anti-clotting) pharmaceutical drug development.

Immucor said in a statement the test can potentially improve real-time treatment of heart disease by determining the risk of clotting, which can lead to heart attacks or stroke, or the danger of lack of clotting, which can cause excessive bleeding.

Ralph Eatz, senior VP of Immucor, said, “The method offers promise for the prediction of coronary artery and
cerebrovascular disease in patients without a previous disease history.”

Immucor said it will spend approximately $200,000 to develop a product that could be ready to submit for FDA consideration in 12 months. Immucor, formed in 1982 by a group of blood bank professionals, sells $100 million worth of blood tests and analysis systems to hospitals and laboratories annually.

FDA approves Inhibitex clinical trial

Atlanta’s Inhibitex Inc. said it has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to start Phase I clinical trials to test the safety and tolerability of its second drug candidate.

The company will test a humanized monoclonal antibody called Aurexis, which is being developed to treat life-threatening A. aureus infections affecting one million people worldwide. The company said the 300,000 people in the U.S. alone acquired S. aureus infections from a hospital visit last year.

Antibiotic resistant strains caused more than half of those infections and contribute to the 50,000 deaths a year in the U.S. associated with them.

Inhibitex’s lead drug candidate, Veronate, is in Phase II clinical trials. It is being developed to treat both Staphylococcus and S. aureus infections in low birth weight infants.

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