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Febit Opens Shop in Boston, Plans West Coast Office As it Mulls Larger US Presence; Geniom to Hit US in Fall

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Febit Biotech of Heidelberg, Germany, this week said it plans to open an office in the US as it eyes a fall US launch for its flagship Geniom microarray system.
 
The company announced that it has set up an eight-person shop near Boston, establishing a foothold on the East Coast that could one day blossom into its worldwide headquarters, according to company officials.
 
In the more foreseeable future, Febit intends to open an office to serve the West Coast market, in either the San Francisco Bay Area or San Diego, CEO Cord Stähler told BioArray News.
 
Stähler said that the expansion into the US is happening in parallel with a market push for the Geniom system in Febit’s European home market and that it is all part of the firm’s “master plan.”
 
The strategy also echoes similar moves by other European array shops, such as PamGene, based in Den Bosch, The Netherlands, which last year opened its own North American sales headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. (see BAN 8/3/2005).
 
But unlike PamGene’s setup, which functions mainly as a showroom for the firm’s US sales team, Febit’s new digs in Medford, Mass., have been designed to hold a full company that will one day include an R&D team and Geniom production facility.
 
“From our view, Boston is one of the largest biotech communities in the [United] States. You have Harvard and [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] in the region. Secondly, of the big biotech clusters it’s the closest to Europe. So it could be a future headquarters for our US and Europe operations,” Stähler said.
 
Stähler added that the launch has been funded with a fresh, undisclosed amount of VC cash from Febit’s main backer, German billionaire and SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp.
 
Hopp has remained the majority stakeholder in the firm since Febit Biotech was formed in May 2005. An earlier incarnation of the company, called Febit and also headed by Stähler, went belly up in 2004 after disagreements among its original investors cut off funding for the firm (see BAN 5/25/2005).
 
According to Stähler, the new Boston office has been incorporated in Delaware as Febit, Inc., and has been styled as Febit Biotech’s “sister company” with its own management team and board of directors, with Stähler serving as CEO of the US-based company.
 
The company plans to assemble the company in stages, begining with its eight-person sales and marketing operation, followed by production, and then R&D.
 
“We are in discussion with local players to set up the [Geniom] production for the US also in the Boston area together with partners,” he said.
 
Global Launch for Geniom
 
The new US arm of the company will support all of Febit’s operations in the Western Hemisphere and coincides with a greater global push to sell its Geniom microarrayer and analyzer both at home and abroad.
 
“The strategy is to [sell the Geniom] more or less in parallel in the [United] States. At the moment we are on schedule with delivering the first instruments, so everything is going according to plan,” Stähler said.
 
Febit has primarily had a European customer base since it first launched Geniom in 2003, including customers at the Zurich, Switzerland-based Functional Genomics Center; the Estonian Genome Project in Tartu, Estonia; the Center for Biological Sequence Analysis at the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen; and, most recently, the University of Leicester in the UK (see BAN 7/11/2006).
 

The strategy also echoes similar moves by other European array shops, such as PamGene, based in Den Bosch, The Netherlands, which last year opened its own North American sales headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

Under the terms of the deal with the University of Leicester, announced last month, Febit’s UK partner is developing assays for the Geniom platform that could be used in diagnostics, the company said.
 
Peer Stähler, Febit's chief scientific officer, told BioArray News at the time that while Febit is currently focused on the research tools market, it does have long-term plans to enter the diagnostics space as an array-based diagnostic platform provider.
 
Still, this week Cord Stähler said that the company’s target customer base in the US will be the research market.
 
As the company looks to attract interest from the US research community it is also in the midst of a technology upgrade. In April, Febit spokesperson Eva Sterzel told BioArray News that the company will increase the density of its microarrays and offer standard synthesis of 15,000 programmable oligos per microarray by the end of this year, with the intention to launch arrays with 60,000 oligos per array in 2007 or 2008 (see BAN 4/18/2006).
 
Sigma Aldrich
 
Febit will also seek to benefit from a reagents supply and distribution deal with Sigma-Aldrich, according to Stähler.
 
The two companies inked a pact in April in which Sigma-Aldrich agreed to manufacture and distribute oligo synthesis tools and reagents for the Geniom platform (see BAN 4/18/2006).
 

“One major asset will be Sigma Aldrich,” Stähler said. To run our instrumentation we need consumables and Sigma Aldrich is doing the consumables supply. We produce the blank biochip and Sigma produces all the chemistry. Then they assemble the whole kit, and offer it directly to our customers. This gives us logistics worldwide.”

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