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Patrick Springer, Published August 22 2013

Drug-testing firm wins bid for two PRACS buildings

FARGO – Another drug-testing firm emerged as the buyer of two former PRACS Institute buildings in an auction held last week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The price of the winning bid from Novum Pharmaceutical Research Services wasn’t included in the judge’s order approving the purchase agreement, filed Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Antonio, Texas.

Novum, based in Pittsburgh, Penn., conducts clinical research tests for the pharmaceutical industry, as did PRACS, which abruptly closed its doors and filed a Chapter 7 liquidation petition in March.

“The ink isn’t dry on anything,” said Christopher Chamberlain, Novum’s chief executive officer. “We’re working on the details. We’re excited about opening up in Fargo soon.”

Chamberlain declined to make further comment Thursday. Details on closing the transaction still are being worked out.

Aldevron, a Fargo-based biotechnology firm, had made a $5.1 million “stalking horse” bid for the two former PRACS buildings, effectively setting the base price in the auction, conducted Aug. 16.

It wasn’t clear Thursday how Aldevron, which has experienced rapid growth, will address its space needs. Aldevron executives declined comment.

The firm, established in 1998, acquired the former Woodrow Wilson school near downtown before the PRACS buildings became available through bankruptcy proceedings.

The purchase involves two buildings at the former PRACS complex on the 4800 block of Amber Valley Parkway: a two-story building of 116,775 square feet with an appraised value of $10.6 million, and an auxiliary building of 8,400 square feet appraised at $781,400, according to city records.

The PRACS center in Fargo had 544 beds and employed about 400 people.

James Carlson, a founder of PRACS and its top executive when the owners directed its closure, owns a third building on the former PRACS campus.

The future of that building, vacant since PRACS shut down, was unclear. Carlson said he was working to find tenants for the building.

Carlson declined comment on Novum’s purchase of the other two buildings. Before the buildings had been cleared for auction, he had been trying to assemble a new ownership group to take over the facility.

Novum, established in 1972, operates three research facilities with a total of 550 beds, with locations in Las Vegas and Houston in addition to Pittsburgh.

The Houston center is Novum’s largest, with 225 beds in six clinics, according to the company’s website.

The Las Vegas site, which opened in 2004, has 200 beds among six clinics, and Novum’s Pittsburgh operation has 125 beds in four clinics.

Earlier this month, Novum announced that it had hired a former PRACS executive from Fargo.

Alan Copa joined Novum’s leadership team as a vice president. He served as PRACS’ chief scientific officer and had spent 20 years with the company. Copa has a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Minnesota.

Carlson co-founded PRACS here in 1983 and served as its top executive until 2006, when the operation was acquired by Cetero, based in North Carolina.

Cetero filed last year for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was sold to an investor group led by Freeport Financial, and Carlson was brought back as chief executive officer.

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