Drug company Rock Creek relocating to Roskamp Institute from Virginia

Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals signs incentive deal with county to create 16 jobs

cschelle@bradenton.comJune 18, 2014 

TALLEVAST -- A pharmaceutical company looking for a new start is relocating from Glen Allen, Va., to the Roskamp Institute in southern Manatee County with the help of incentives.

Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals -- a company that was investigated by the Food and Drug Administration for its marketing tactics and linked to a scandal involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife -- is leasing a 3,000-square-foot space from Roskamp at 2040 Whitfield Ave., Suite 300, in Tallevast. The company plans to relocate workers from the Northeast as it partners with Roskamp, which specializes in Alzheimer's research.

"Our plan is to consolidate operations at the institute's Bradenton area location, and grow our staff for research and development, sales and marketing from a headquarters here," said Rock Creek CEO Michael J. Mullan, who is also the chairman of Roskamp.

The drug company specializes in treatments for inflammatory conditions, neurological disease and behavioral health, among other conditions.

Rock Creek's background started as a tobacco company looking for a way to cure tobacco while getting rid of the toxins, and found an anti-inflammatory compound anatabine that had fewer downsides than nicotine, which also has anti-inflammatory properties.

The drug company announced in a news release June 2 that it would change its name from Star Scientific to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals as it relocates to Manatee County. The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., on Tuesday announced an incentive deal that aided in the company's relocation.

Manatee County approved a $48,000 performance-based economic incentive grant for Rock Creek if the drug maker creates 16 jobs over five years, said Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. Also, those jobs created must have an average wage that is twice that of Manatee County's average wage.

"The Roskamp Institute is a leader in the Bradenton area's growing life sciences sector, blazing a trail of innovative research and therapies to help patients worldwide," Hillstrom said.

"With Roskamp's CEO, Dr. Michael Mullan, also leading Rock Creek as chairman and chief executive officer, the affiliation between the two organizations is poised to bring leading-edge therapies to the life sciences market."

The company employed 25 people as of last week and are awaiting commitments from employees interested in relocating from Rock Creek's locations in Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington, D.C. About 10 to 15 people will start out in Manatee County, and it expects to grow its employee base to previous levels, said Ted Jenkins, vice president of corporate strategy, development and investor relations for Rock Creek.

The company overhauled its corporate structure in December when it appointed Mullan as its CEO and Christopher Chapman as president in the wake of the FDA investigation involving McDonnell. It also appointed five new board directors as part of the shake-up.

The controversy was tied to claims it made for an anti-inflammatory supplement sold over the counter at GNC called Anatabloc, along with a smoking cessation supplement CigRx, prompting warnings from the FDA.

"We've cleaned up our act," Jenkins said.

Anatabloc had been improperly marketed on the company's website, according to the FDA.

However, the compound within the nutritional supplement showed promise, so the company is seeking FDA permission to begin drug testing trials to develop a drug that could battle osteoarthritis or other ailments, Jenkins said. The company has not determined what they will market the drug for.

"It was for the most part somewhat of a consumer nutritional supplements products company, and now we are pursuing an FDA regulatory drug pathway," Jenkins said of Rock Creek's shift as a company.

Mullan's work with Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and other inflammatory-based diseases complement the basis of Rock Creek's anti-inflammatory developments, Jenkins added.

The company's former CEO, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., was sacked in the wake of the probe, shortly before federal corruption charges were levied against former Gov. McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell. The couple was charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts from the drug maker in exchange for promoting the products. Williams is still paid by the company as a consultant for $1 a month until profitability.

Rock Creek, as Star Scientific, and Roskamp have known each other for a while. The McDonnell indictment showed that Maureen McDonnell and her chief-of-staff took Williams' private jet and flew to the Roskamp Institute on June 1, 2011, to talk to Star Scientific investors. Maureen McDonnell then purchased stock in the company that same day and later offered to host a launch party for Anatabloc at the governor's mansion, according to the indictment.

The federal trial is set to start July 28.

The publicly traded company now trades on NASDAQ under the symbol RCPI and closed at 70 cents a share Tuesday.

In early March, days before an investor meeting in Sarasota, the company entered into a series of financial transactions to have $15.1 million in cash available as it started its transition.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker welcomed the jobs news.

"The Manatee County Board of Commissioners is committed to maintaining a business-friendly climate to encourage businesses that offer high-impact jobs to locate and expand in the Bradenton area," he said. "Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals' decision to locate at Roskamp Institute expands the scope of life sciences in our Bradenton area market."

Rock Creek's space in Tallevast is in the midst of a remodel and is expected to be open in July, Jenkins said.

Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals can be found online at rockcreekpharmaceuticals.com.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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