- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Tetracore LLC a month ago was just one of hundreds of small, local biotechnology companies pitching their products to customers reluctant to spend money during an economic downturn.
This week the company is sold out of its product and executives are debating whether to double or even triple output.
Tetracore makes an anthrax "bio-threat alert" (BTA). In the words of Chief Executive Officer Bill Nelson, it is a product "akin to a home pregnancy test but instead of finding out you're pregnant, you find out you've got anthrax."
The threat of bioterrorism is proving profitable for several local biotech companies with potential blockbuster products like vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tools.
The anthrax scare began several weeks ago when a South Florida tabloid journalist contracted and then died from the disease. Several news organizations and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, have since received envelopes containing anthrax.
The child of four former U.S. Navy scientists, Tetracore was born in Gaithersburg in 1998 out of thoughts of retirement and $100,000 pooled from savings. The company operated out of a Montgomery County incubator. Then a year ago, soon after its BTA hit the market, Tetracore moved out on its own.
Management says the company became profitable two years ago, but developing BTA cost a pretty penny. Now the company is thrilled to see BTA reach its current demand.
"It's getting wild," Mr. Nelson said. "Our distributor is sold out and we're rushing to get things up."
Clients are mostly fire and police departments, state and local authorities and federal contractors. But now even corporate America is lining up.
"We had some large corporations who were interested," said Mr. Nelson, who would not identify the companies. "But we sell it to entities that we can provide training to. We're not going to sell it to individuals or things like that. We don't want people using (BTA) inappropriately there's enough to stress out about right now without somebody who doesn't know what they are doing saying there's a problem."
Meridian Medical Technologies Inc. also is capitalizing on the threat of bioterrorism.
As the military's sole supplier of auto-injectors of nerve agent antidotes, the company has seen its stock double following the Sept. 11 attacks and the government's warning of potential future attacks.
Shares of Meridian closed at $21 yesterday on Nasdaq, more than double their price in early September.
"After the Sept. 11 attacks a lot of people started to look at what stocks are going to benefit from additional business due to the spending on homeland security and also for the military," said Dennis O'Brien, chief financial officer of Meridian, of Columbia, Md. "And we fall into that space."
The number of phone calls has risen with the stock price, which Mr. O'Brien hopes will translate into new clients. Not that he's announcing any contracts yet.
But analysts expect the increased attention on such companies to result in sales and profits.
Aaron Geist, analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., recalled when Celera Genomics, of Rockville, said it had mapped the human genetic makeup, sending shares of biotech companies soaring in summer 2000. The stocks plummeted later, as investors realized how long it would take for the map to lead to products, let alone sales and profits.
Celera's stock suffered but has risen slightly since, as the company's genetic sequencers are being used to identify the remains of victims at the World Trade Center. Shares of Celera closed at $27 on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, about $5 higher than a month ago.
Nobody thought of stockpiling biological or chemical warfare detectors a year ago, but the Sept. 11 attacks have put such products to the spotlight.
"Had it been a couple of hoaxes, people can live with that. But now somebody got anthrax and died from it … and it has raised the bar to the point where I don't think anybody is going to go back on it anytime soon," Mr. Nelson said. "Basically, there is no way to put that genie back in the bottle."
If he's right, companies like Tetracore and BioReliance Corp., the Rockville maker of a smallpox vaccine, will be among a handful of growing stocks in a sluggish economy.
BioReliance supplies its vaccine to the military and has a 20-year contract worth some $100 million with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a stockpile of the smallpox vaccine for the public. The company's shares traded at about $12 before Sept. 11; They closed at $28.11 yesterday on Nasdaq.
Another company to benefit from its bioterrorism-related product is Versar Inc., of Springfield.
Offering support services in environmental health and safety, Versar a week ago began teaching its clients about mailroom safety. Since then the company's shares have doubled, from just over $2 a month ago to close at $4.51 yesterday on the American Stock Exchange.
Versar has been working with the Department of Defense for 15 years in chemical warfare-related matters. Its new consulting service tells companies where they are most vulnerable and how to toughen security.
"Since September 11, there's recognition for a broader need to develop procedures and analyze potential threats far beyond the fire department and National Guard," said James Dobbs, general counsel and vice president. "Companies tend to put CEOs in the front or on top of buildings, and we tell them how that may affect their operations."

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