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Patrick Springer, Published June 22 2012

Dr. James Carlson to head PRACS; Fargo to be headquarters

FARGO – PRACS Institute has risen from the ashes of a successor firm’s bankruptcy and returned as the name for a new drug-testing firm that once again will be headquartered here.

James Carlson, a PRACS co-founder who sold the company in 2006, has been named chief executive of the new company, purchased this week by an investment group based in Chicago that bought the assets of Cetero Research for $80 million.

“I’m so excited I haven’t been able to sleep for days,” Carlson said Friday, reached by telephone from San Antonio, Texas, where he is touring a former Cetero site now part of the resurrected PRACS Institute.

Cetero Research, which was based in Cary, N.C., was formed in 2006 from the purchase of the original PRACS in Fargo and two other drug-testing companies.

It had six locations, including Fargo, where the original PRACS was established in 1983.

The headquarters for the new PRACS Institute will be at its massive research center in Fargo, which the company describes as the largest initial-phase drug testing facility in the world.

“There will be new jobs in Fargo,” Carlson said. Two areas that need to be strengthened in Fargo include statistical analysis and reporting as well as bio-analytical laboratory staffing, he said.

“We have a definite need to expand scientific affairs for PRACS Institute,” Carlson said. “That department has been pretty much decimated in Fargo.”

People with those skills who formerly worked for Cetero are still in the Fargo area and could rejoin the new company, Carlson said.

As of March, Cetero had about 400 employees in Fargo and 544 beds for drug test subjects. In total, Cetero had 1,140 employees as of March, the most recent figures available Friday. Carlson said he is not certain of the current head count.

The new owners are Freeport Financial, a group of investors who owned the buildings for all of Cetero’s locations. The investors decided to buy Cetero when it went on the auction block in bankruptcy proceedings earlier this year.

“They decided now to buy the business part with the brick and mortar to maximize their investment,” Carlson said. “That’s where I come in.”

Carlson added that he was not among the owners of the new PRACS, although he had tried unsuccessfully to assemble a group of co-investors to submit a bid.

Cetero encountered significant financial problems after it was revealed more than a year ago that chemists in its lab in Houston falsified pay records to collect fatter paychecks.

Ultimately the Food and Drug Administration concluded that tests at the Houston lab were valid, but the lengthy investigation and adverse publicity proved damaging to Cetero.

After “months and months of turmoil,” employees throughout the company are eager to embark on a new chapter, Carlson said.

“The level of enthusiasm from the staff is mindboggling,” he added.

Carlson’s visits to the company’s other locations will keep him from being at the Fargo location until early July. It will mark the first time he has been in the facility since he sold the original PRACS in 2006.

Joining Carlson on the leadership of the new PRACS Institute are Mark Ubert, a certified public accountant who has been named chief financial officer. Ubert joined Cetero in 2009 as corporate controller.

John Pottier has been named executive vice president for business development. He brings more than 20 years of industry experience.

Freeport Financial was founded in 2004 by a group of investors with a background in corporate finance and capital markets.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522


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