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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hawaii Biotech staying in 'Aiea

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii Biotech, which said in March it would move its headquarters to California, reversed the decision and will stay in 'Aiea, the company said yesterday.

The 24-year-old company, which just completed a major reorganization, had planned to change names and move its headquarters to La Jolla, Calif., near San Diego.

However, the company's board of directors decided to keep the name and the strong identification with Hawai'i.

"Hawaii Biotech has a good reputation on the Mainland," said Leonard Firestone, the company's new chief executive. "We want to build on that reputation rather than start from scratch."

The announcement comes following the consummation of a merger of the vaccine businesses of Hawaii Biotech Inc. and Sydney, Australia-based Avantogen Ltd. Avantogen and Hawaii Biotech investors each own half of the new company, which also is known as Hawaii Biotech, though ownership could be shifted in favor of one or the other group in the future.

Under terms of the deal Avantogen, a public company, contributed $3.5 million along with its vaccine development work and senior management team to Hawaii Biotech. Hawaii Biotech contributed $1 million and its vaccine programs, facilities and grant funding.

Following the merger, announced in March, Hawaii Biotech will move from strictly research to more product development. The company is engaged in clinical trials of vaccines for West Nile, dengue fever and influenza.

Firestone's job is to find investors. He will have offices in La Jolla and 'Aiea.

One option the company will likely explore next year is an initial public offering of stock, Firestone said.

"All of this is provided there is good clinical data," he said. "If the data is good, the capital will flow."

Human trials of Hawaii Biotech's West Nile virus vaccine are expected to begin early next year. Hawaii Biotech, which has about 50 employees, is expected to add five more during the next year as it gears up for clinical trials and pilot drug manufacturing, Firestone said.

Hawaii Biotech's former chief executive officer, David Watumull, left the company to become chief executive for 'Aiea-based Cardax Pharmaceuticals Inc., which was spun off from Hawaii Biotech and employs 15 people.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.