- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

Versar Inc. said yesterday that it is expanding its biological research and testing into a new laboratory in the Interstate 270 biotechnology corridor to meet the surge in bioterrorism work since the September 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax scares.
The Springfield company offers support services to government and private groups in counterterrorism and environmental health and safety.
Its laboratory orders have topped $1 million since September, as it has conducted anthrax testing for federal agencies and some 150 businesses locally and in New York and New Jersey, where spores of the bacteria were found.
"We are expanding, given the volume of work that occurred in October, November and December, and the increased sensitivity by both the government and the private sector for better detection of biological agents," said James Dobbs, Versar's general counsel and vice president.
Versar has worked with the Department of Defense for 15 years on chemical warfare. One of its Web sites is www.homelanddefense.com, a name it used long before President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security at the beginning of October.
The expansion, which will increase its lab space about 400 percent, was planned less than two years ago and was not projected to occur for two more years. But the increased business expedited the process, and Versar's new lab in Gaithersburg will be fully operational by March, Mr. Dobbs said.
"We're looking to move quickly and increase our capability to keep the momentum of the business we've obtained as result of the issue of anthrax," Mr. Dobbs added.
Bioterrorism is a leading public and governmental concern, but other biological illnesses such as mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease, which broke out in areas of Europe around this time last year, have led to a rising need for biological-detection products, biotech analysts say.
"There is, naturally, a lot of emphasis, a hype around such companies," said Viren Mehta, an analyst with Mehta Partners.
Drug or vaccinelike products typically take up to 10 years to reach the market, he said, but the government frequently expedites testing and approval in emergencies. For instance, HIV drugs were rushed to the market after AIDS was declared an epidemic in the early 1990s.
Versar has seen immediate reaction to its counterterrorism work: Its shares doubled from less than $2 to more than $4 in October when it began testing for anthrax and teaching companies about mailroom safety.
The stock closed at $3.50 yesterday on the American Stock Exchange.
Complementing its expanding bioterrorism-research business, Versar has won several hefty government contracts in the past two months, including:
A five-year contract worth up to $25 million to provide environmental, safety and occupational health services to the U.S. Air Force.
More than $260,000 in orders for its Geomet unit to provide protective suits to the U.S. Marine Corps for use by the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force.
A $4 million contract to clean up soil and groundwater at the U.S. Army's Pueblo, Colo., chemical depot.
More than $5 million in contracts awarded last week for engineering design and construction for two major new transportation projects in Virginia.
Versar also was named one of a handful of local companies that won a $25 million contract to provide services for the Air Force Institute for Environmental Risk Analysis.

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