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After a Year of Rapid Growth, Lion Sets its Sights on the Bottom Line

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What a difference a year makes. After its acquisition of San Diego-based Trega Biosciences last March and recent purchase of Cleveland-based NetGenics, Lion Biosciences nearly doubled its staff and expanded its global organization to six sites spanning nine time zones.

But while growth can be a good thing, Lion CEO Friedrich von Bohlen is acutely aware of the risks involved in growing too quickly. With most of the pieces in place now to build the horizontal integration platform it has been planning for over a year, von Bohlen said the company must now sharpen its business focus and “bring the rubber to the road.”

The first step in this process entails streamlining its operations. By April, the company will reduce its headcount from around 580 people to approximately 500 people worldwide. This includes a number of part-time employees, term contracts, resignations, and other losses through attrition, according to Lion. While there are no plans to shut down any of its six sites, von Bohlen said the company has restructured organizationally to optimize the efforts of each location: Heidelberg, Germany, and San Diego will focus on IT-driven drug discovery in the area of nuclear receptors; Cambridge, UK, will specialize in SRS development and consulting; Cambridge, Mass, will continue the company’s partnership with Bayer; and Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, will work on integration development.

Most importantly, according to von Bohlen, is a refocusing of the software development management team. While the company’s distributed nature allows each region to focus on its niche area of expertise, it was necessary to put a management hierarchy in place to oversee global development efforts. Mark Canales will be responsible for all software and architecture decisions while Thure Etzold will head up the scientific side of the software development going forward. Etzold, who originally developed SRS while at EMBL, still holds an academic appointment at the EBI — an important connection, according to von Bohlen, who said it’s critical for Lion to stay in touch with the academic community.

The primary development goal right now is incorporating SRS into NetGenics’ DiscoveryCenter integration platform, a project that should be complete in a matter of weeks to months, according to Rudy Potenzone, CEO of Lion’s US subsidiary, Lion Bioscience Inc. Once completed, Potenzone said, “SRS will be the heart of the data integration that DiscoveryCenter uses going forward.”

Lion intends to build upon its already strong SRS customer base in bringing DiscoveryCenter to market. An additional piece of the company’s ongoing strategy is enlarging its professional services group to grow its i-biology alliance program. The market for research informatics solutions is maturing, von Bohlen said, and pharmaceutical companies are just beginning to realize the importance of a strong informatics foundation that links scientific knowledge with enabling tools and technology. Lion’s goal, von Bohlen said, involves more than “just dropping software.” Instead, the company aims to be “a strategic partner for life sciences organizations who understand IT as a strategic issue.”

Lion is shooting for break-even by 2003-2004.

— BT

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