Editor’s note: BioWatch is a regular feature on Fridays.

WINSTON-Targacept says the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has invited it to compete for the 2004 James D. Watson Helix Award for biotechnology leadership in the small company category.

It’s not something the company is trumpeting yet – the only reference to it we’ve seen is hidden in a short announcement on their Web site and even that isn’t prominent, apparently due to restrictions BIO places on competing companies.

Targacept is competing for the award. We asked Bill Caldwell, Targacept’s vice president for drug discovery and development what the award might mean to the company.

“If we win, we will be honored in our field of excellence, gain investor confidence, achieve public recognition and develop greater respect from our board members, collaborators, advisors, and peers. It also means recognition of the growth of biotechnology in North Carolina. And, as an added benefit, it’s great for company morale,” Caldwell says.

BIO represents more than 1,100 biotech companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 33 other nations. NCBIO is the state arm of BIO. The Helix award winner is announced in late February.

If Targacept’s past performance in winning awards is a guide, they’ll be solidly in the running for this one. The company, which is developing a new class of drugs to treat memory disorders, pain, dementia and Alzheimer’s, among other disorders, has racked up an impressive array of awards already.

Caldwell tells Local Tech Wire, “Targacept’s past awards carry with them recognition of a specialized area of excellence. One was based on our achievements as innovators in computer-aided drug design (NCEITA 2001). Another recognized our ability to complete the strongest second round financing in our sector, from a very savvy group of life sciences investors, during one of the most difficult markets in history (CED 2004). When our President & CEO, Don deBethizy, won Carolinas Entrepreneur of the Year (E&Y 2002), it was because of his leadership talent, drive and the strong performance of the company.”

Targacept has three Phase II and one Phase I compound in clinical trials and an extensive intellectual property.

It bases its research on an under-exploited class of molecular targets for drugs called neuronal nicotinic receptors.

Targacept Awards

Those awards include:

  • Targacept became the first company outside the Research Triangle to win the NC Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s (CED’s)”Private Company Deal of the Year,” award last August. The company closed a $42 million venture round in December 2002, largest of the year. It added an additional $14 million to the round in March 2003. The total round of $60 million was the largest biotech venture funding in the world from 2002 until the first quarter in 2003.

  • Targacept’s chief executive, J. Donald deBethizy earned “Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year,” designation from the Ernst & Young accounting firm at its annual ceremony n Charlotte in 2002.

  • The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce recognized the company with its Salute to Business Award in October 2002. It recognizes companies that include community activities in their corporate mission, which Targacept does through various programs.

  • Targacept won the North Carolina Electronics and Technology Association (NCEITA) 2001 Health/Pharmaceutical Company of the Year award. The awards are given annually in 21 catagories to the leading companies and individuals in NC’s technology industry. (Which gives a us a chance to stick this in:Local Tech Wire won the NCEITA media company of the year award in 2003).
  • New board member

    Targacept also added Errol De Souza to its board this week.

    De Souza, a Ph.D., is president and CEO of Archemix Corp., a biopharmaceutical company. Previously, Dr. De Souza was president and CEO of Synaptic Pharmaceutical Corp., where he negotiated its sale to H. Lundbeck of Denmark. From 1998 to 2002, he was senior vice president and U.S. head of innovation and approval for Aventis. He also co-founded Neurocrine Biosciences Inc.

    Caldwell says, “Errol De Souza’s vast experience in global pharmaceuticals and biotechnology brings valuable knowledge and insight to Targacept. He has run innovative pharmaceutical divisions and companies and is now a seasoned veteran with excellent contacts in the industry. At this stage in our development, his is well placed to assist with Targacept’s continued growth.”

    NC Biotech plan delayed

    Gov. Mike Easley’s office intended to release the approved strategic plan for the state’s biotechnology economic development initiatives this week, but the winter storm delayed the process.

    Cooper Bratton, the governor’s press secretary, tells LTW no new release date has been set.

    Gov. Easley asked the NC Biotech Center to guide development of the strategic plan.

    Items likely to be on it include:

  • Support for the bond authority appropriation to help biotech companies build manufacturing plants in the state. This is a big-ticket item in which the state buys land and helps construct the plants in hopes of creating new jobs in the wake of continuing textile, tobacco, and other manufacturing job losses.

  • Continued support for the biotech manufacturing training program backed by Golden Leaf Fund money as well as corporate support.

  • Support for raising Biotech Center funding for certain successful programs such as supporting very early academic research, to previous levels in real dollars.
  • Wilmington biochem event set

    The seventh UNC-Wilmington symposium on chemistry and biochemistry will be held at Dobo Hall January 30-31.

    Twelve speakers from academe and industry will cover topics such as the toxins and peptides found in natural organisms such as marine life and their potential as new leads for the pharmaceutical industry.

    The event is free and more information is available from: info@ncbiotech.org.

    Targacept: www.targacept.com