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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Hawaii Biotech wins government contract

By John Duchemin
Advertiser Staff Writer

'Aiea research firm Hawaii Biotech has received $3 million from the Department of Defense to search for an antidote to anthrax toxins.

Starting next year, the company will work with the University of Hawai'i and Tripler Army Medical Center to search for natural compounds that inhibit the lethal chemicals produced by anthrax bacteria.

The money will pay for Hawaii Biotech's purchase of robotic equipment that will be used to screen thousands of natural compounds, said David Watumull, Hawaii Biotech president. The company will also hire three to five research scientists to work on the project, he said.

The project comes as the U.S. government ramps up efforts to fight anthrax, smallpox and other infectious diseases that officials fear could be used by terrorists.

The $3 million appropriation will cover the project's first year, Watumull said. Additional money would come later.

With about 30 employees, Hawaii Biotech is one of Hawai'i's largest biotechnology research firms. The company has received $30 million in government money, plus millions of dollars in private money, to work on various projects, including a vaccine for dengue fever, an antidote for botulism poisoning, and chemical agents to prevent tissue damage from heart attacks and hepatitis.

Hawaii Biotech, formed by nine scientists and University of Hawai'i professors in 1982, is one of several research companies looking to create disease vaccines, genetically improved crops and other biotech-based products in Hawai'i.

Observers say its success would show that a biotech company can flourish in Hawai'i and attract adequate financing for its projects.

Reach John Duchemin at 525-8062 or jduchemin@honoluluadvertiser.com.