While Georgia is not considered an international center for biotechnological innovation, the state’s ability to recruit talented life science professionals has certainly improved over the last 15 years, according Harold H. Shlevin, president and CEO of Atlanta-based drug development company Tikvah Therapeutics Inc.

Dr. Shlevin, who was global senior vice president of Belgium-based Solvay Pharmaceuticals SA before joining Tikvah last summer, first moved to Atlanta in 1991 from New Jersey to start Ciba Vision Ophthalmics, then a division of Switzerland-based Ciba-Geigy Corp.

“In 1991, when we were looking for experienced people in Atlanta, they were few and far between. Now that’s changed,” Dr. Shlevin told GlobalAtlanta during an interview at Tikvah’s headquarters in the Advanced Technology Development Center in Midtown, which is the business incubator system of Georgia Institute of Technology.

Dr. Shlevin said that since starting with Tikvah in June, he had staffed its 10-person office with professionals already living in the Atlanta area.

A high quality of life, a low cost of living, renowned colleges and universities and a strong research and medical base, which has been developed by local research institutions such as Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are attractive to bioscience professionals, said Dr. Shlevin.

“Once people get here, they realize the quality of life benefit, that the people here are nice, and they end up staying,” he said, citing himself as an example.

Dr. Shlevin was living and working in Atlanta when he was approached by Paramount Biosciences LLC of New York to head up Tikvah.

Founded in 1991, Paramount is a drug development firm and life sciences merchant bank that starts up bioscience companies that will commercialize pre-approved drugs for new uses.

Paramount provided the financing and infrastructure support to get Tikvah underway by this summer. The company is working to commercialize drugs to treat psychiatric and neurological conditions.

When Dr. Shlevin spoke with GlobalAtlanta on Feb. 19, the company had just announced a licensing agreement with drug development company Therapade Technologies LLC for the worldwide rights to develop and commercialize D-cycloserine and related compounds, which have been proven to help patients with anxiety-related disorders.

When taken before psychotherapy sessions, D-cycloserine helped patients with acrophobia get over their fears of heights more quickly than those patients not taking the drug, Dr. Shlevin said. He said he also expects it to help patients suffering from other anxiety-related problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While, Dr. Shlevin does not expect D-cycloserine to be on the market for anxiety-related disorders before 2010, working with already-discovered and licensed drugs actually speeds up the drug development process, he said.

“We already know these drugs have a high probability of working,” he said.

Dr. Shlevin, who holds post-doctoral degrees in pharmacology and physiology, is vice-chair of the Georgia Biomedical Partnership, a non-profit organization that represents Georgia’s life science industry. He will be responsible for putting on this fall’s Georgia Life Sciences Summit, which attracts leaders from around the world who are working in the life sciences industry.

He said that he believed his strong science background coupled with his extensive experience commercializing drugs with Solvay, G.D. Searle and Co. and Ciba-Geigy Corp., caused Paramount to seek him out to lead Tikvah.

While global vice president at Solvay, Dr. Shlevin was responsible for managing the company’s regulatory, safety, quality and external affairs activities worldwide. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc., the company’s U.S. branch, which is headquartered in Marietta.

Tikvah, which means ‘hope’ in Hebrew, is one of more than 40 companies that have been developed by Paramount.

Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories

Tikvah Therapeutics

Paramount Biosciences LLC

Georgia Biomedical Partnership and the upcoming life sciences summit