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Germany's Cenix Establishes US Subsidiary to Expand R&D Capabilities

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By Doug Macron

Cenix BioScience this week announced that it has established a US subsidiary that is expected to eventually house its top management, business development operations, and new research and development capabilities beyond its core RNAi screening, microRNA modulation, and high-content phenotyping work.

Notably, the creation of Minneapolis, Minn.-based Cenix BioScience USA has expanded the company's footprint beyond its Dresden, Germany headquarters and Beerse, Belgium satellite facility, which it expects will give it an edge in attracting US-based customers.

“This has been something we've long discussed as a natural expansion path for us,” Cenix CEO and CSO Chris Echeverri told Gene Silencing News this week.

“A lot of our business-development outreach over the years has been focused on North America,” he noted, adding that the company has already struck a number of “major partnerships” with US-based groups since its inception in 1999 including Life Technologies unit Ambion, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, and Bayer.

“We've just waited for the right opportunity to do this,” he said.

Echeverri will now work primarily out of Cenix's US facility, although the rest of the company's employees will remain at their current locations, including COO Birte Sonnichsen, who will expand her role in Dresden to include co-managing directorship.

Currently, Cenix has about 40 staffers at its German headquarters, and about five employees in Belgium, who continue to work closely with partner Janssen Research and Development to co-develop Cenix's DARE siRNA delivery technology for in vivo applications in the central nervous system (GSN 5/5/2011).

According to Echeverri, Cenix will build a new team to work at the Minneapolis site, and expects that it could eventually have as many employees in the US as it does in Germany.

And while Minneapolis isn't considered a biotech hotspot, he doesn't anticipate difficulties attracting talent.

“The idea that you need to be in one of the biggest hubs to do great work and thrive as a company is a fallacy,” as evidenced by Cenix's success as a Dresden-based firm, Echeverri said.

Though Minneapolis is widely known as a key location for the medical device sector, “it has some very accomplished biotechs, as well,” he said. “For us, [the area's life science industry] offers a very good, interesting range of know-how, activities, and funding sources. It opens up a lot of good possibilities for local win-win partnerships, as well.”

At the same time, “in building up a company and have it last for a long time, you need to pay attention to a lot of real-world factors, not just the business” ones, Echeverri added. “That means livability of where you set up shop. We got that beautifully in Dresden … and I see that same potential for us” in Minneapolis.

Cenix is currently working on defining the exact focus of its US operations, taking into account its expertise and the needs of potential partners, Echeverri said.

“Large pharma discovery R&D units are facing ever-increasing pressure for trimming their budgets,” he explained. “One major strategy for them is to outsource to specialists like us.

“More and more … they're looking for good specialized contract research providers to help them out,” he added. “We're looking at what capabilities specifically they're looking to outsource and that would be good complements to what we do already. The list of possibilities is quite long.”

One thing the company does not want to do is attempt to reproduce what it has already created in Germany.

“The team … and the set of capabilities we have in Dresden are not easy to build up, and have been refined and matured over more than a decade,” he said. “The last thing I want is to duplicate that here.

“What we want to do, rather, is focus on broadening the range of capabilities — adding other capabilities that will complement what we have in Dresden and in Belgium,” he said.


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