California firm picks RTP to develop prenatal tests

Sequenom plans to hire 242 technicians for its Research Triangle Park operation. The company will receive up to $2.3 million in state incentives if it meets job goal targets.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — {a href="external_link-1"}}Sequenom{{/a}} (Nasdaq: SQNM), a California-based prenatal diagnostic testing company, plans to open an operation in Research Triangle Park and hire up to 242 workers over the next four years.

The firm will receive up to $2.3 million in state tax incentives if it meets job hiring commitments.

Gov. Beverly Perdue announced the firm’s decision at the NCBIO conference Wednesday morning in RTP. NCBIO is a trade group representing the state’s life science industry, which is the third largest in the country and employs some 50,000 people.

"This is a private company doing molecular innovation in North Carolina. That says a whole lot about who we are and where other companies should invest," Perdue said.

Paul Maier, who will head Sequenom's RTP operation, said the firm picked North Carolina over Texas for the facility because of access to worker training programs at area universities, an availability of lab space and access to Raleigh-Durham International Airport and other logistics services.

"Finding trained lab technicians (who) can do these very complex tests, many of the other states we looked at just didn't have that workforce available," Maier said. "We have that workforce available here in North Carolina."

The Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine will develop a range of molecular diagnostic tests, with a focus on prenatal diseases and conditions. These genetic tests provide better patient management alternatives for obstetricians, geneticists and maternal fetal medicine specialists.

The MaterniT21 test, which is expected to launch in the coming months, is meant to advance prenatal screening for trisomy 21, the most common cause of Down syndrome.

Sequenom will invest $18 million in a building off Kit Creek Road, which it plans to lease. Final terms of that agreement are still being negotiated, he added.

Salaries for the RTP workers will average $53,721 a year, plus benefits.

Founded in 1994 and based in San Diego, Sequenom employs more than 200 people. The company has a market cap of around $500 million based on its stock price.

Wall Street analysts have a target range of between $3 and $11 for the stock. Four consider it a “strong buy,” three rate it as a “buy,” three as a “hold” and one as a “sell,”” according to Thomson First Call.


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