The Products Of Research

Small biotech research company and toolmaker Dyax is using business technology to turn itself into a drugmaker

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

May 8, 2004

2 Min Read

Dyax, which ended last year with 109 employees, needs more cash for research. To help bolster its financials and simplify its business, Dyax last year sold its Biotage medical-instruments division for $35 million, money it will use for R&D.

The economics of the biotech market increasingly make it a place driven by partnerships. "The costs and risks are increasing," Galliker says. "For big companies, partnering is a way of managing risks. For little companies, it's the only way to get there."

That's why Dyax is partnering with Genzyme to try to get DX-88 to market. Dyax is managing the clinical trials, regulatory-compliance strategy, and manufacturing processes, while Genzyme will market and distribute the finished product. The companies plan to split the profits.

Swiss drug developer Debiopharm S.A. is helping Dyax test DX-890. Debiopharm is in charge of the clinical trials, while Dyax will manage the manufacturing should the trials prove successful.

Dyax's immediate focus is on running the DX-88 and DX-890 development programs, with business technology playing a central role. Over the past decade, Dyax's IT team has transitioned from being a support function to providing a strategic advantage for the company, and the IT budget has grown to reflect this new role. IT manager Mulkern says his budget is up about 20% from a year ago.

Mulkern started with Dyax in 1997 as a biologist. At the time, IT at the company was getting by on a shoestring budget that meant as many as four employees might share a single computer.

In 2001, Dyax's IT manager left to become a monk, and Mulkern was promoted to IT manager. The company moved to a larger facility, part of Polaroid Corp.'s former Cambridge campus, near the MIT Technology Square building. "We were bursting at the seams," Mulkern says. "We had gone public and had the resources to upgrade the facilities. We went from a single floor to three floors."

The company also moved from Windows NT to Windows 2000 with Active Directory, added a network-attached storage system, and replaced ISDN service with T1 lines.

With its focus on IT and a head start with its two drug candidates, Dyax has a shot at making a successful transition, says AMR's Martin. The company's background in specialized pharmaceutical research and technology gets it two-thirds of the way toward getting FDA approval for a particular drug candidate, Martin says. "To take it the rest of the way, [Dyax] can contract out the manufacturing, but at least it owns the product," he says.

That potential to own the end product is a strong incentive for Dyax to capitalize on its deep understanding of the technology--both biotech and business tech--underlying its work to make a difficult but potentially lucrative and life-saving transition.

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