Compound may reduce need for root canalsResearchers at the...

LIFE SCIENCES

September 22, 1992|By Liz Bowie

Compound may reduce need for root canals

Researchers at the University of Maryland at Baltimore are experimenting with a glass compound that may greatly reduce the need for that time-honored torture that is a staple of dentistry everywhere -- the root canal.

The compound, known as Bioglass, is a ceramic material used for years in dentistry and shown to have healing properties. When gelatinized Bioglass is dropped into a hole in the gum left by a tooth extraction, for example, the compound enhances regeneration of both the bone and surrounding tissue.

Timonium-based U.S. Biomaterials Corp. holds worldwide licensing rights for the substance, developed in the 1960s at the University of Florida.

At the behest of U.S. Biomaterials, UMAB's School of Dentistry is looking at ways that the compound might treat a host of human ailments that show up as "bony defects." That's dentist lingo for things like periodontal disease.

University researchers are experimenting with powdered Bio -glass to fill the gaps created by periodontal disease, which causes the jawbone to shrink away from a tooth. Over time, the tooth becomes so unstable that it must be extracted.

Periodontists currently use pulverized bone -- taken from the hips or ribs of patients -- to fill those gaps. Using the compound, dubbed Perioglass for periodontal use, would eliminate that extra surgical procedure.

Researchers are also looking at the possibility of using Bioglass to cap tooth pulps when a nerve dies, reducing the need for -- you guessed it -- dreaded root canal work.

"With the use of this material, you potentially wouldn't have to have root canals," said Len Litkowski, associate professor for biomaterials in UMAB's School of Dentistry. He also heads the Bioglass research program.

Researchers at the University of Maryland at Baltimore and the University of Florida have identified more than 30 medical and dental uses for Bioglass. They range from the replacement of whole sections of bone to cosmetic applications for plastic surgeons.

Crop Genetics hires 2 virus managers

Crop Genetics International has two new virus managers. The pair will help commercialize insecticidal virus products, which protect crops from insect damage without causing the environmental damage chemical pesticides can.

Such products are applied like conventional pesticides, but the virus attacks the cells of insects, killing them.

Nikolai van Beek will become manager of virus research and Gerald Delaney will become director of virus production. Dr. van Beek was a senior scientist in Sandoz Agro Inc.'s insect research group, and Mr. Delaney was senior production microbiologist for Miles Inc.

Hanover, Md.-based Crop Genetics has an alliance with Du Pont to make the new viral products, the first of which should be manufactured next year.

Hopkins spinoff lab teams up with Wyeth

Genta Inc. of San Diego and pharmaceutical giant Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories of Philadelphia have signed a collaborative research agreement to develop treatments for infectious diseases.

Genta, a company founded in 1988 on research from Johns Hopkins University, is developing therapeutic treatments based on anti-sense -- a synthetic compound that will bind to RNA or DNA molecules and shut down the disease-causing genetic code.

Under the agreement, Wyeth receives exclusive worldwide marketing rights to the products and an option to license related therapies.

Vaccine maker refurbishes plant

Maryland hasn't exactly been overrun with biotechnology manufacturing plants.

Often, the region's biotech companies have contracted with manufacturers outside the state to make drugs.

Or they haven't even started making products yet.

But Univax Biologics Inc. is bucking the trend. The company, which is ready to test the vaccines it has developed, decided to renovate a 3,000-square-foot building at its Rockville headquarters to turn out the first vaccines next month.

And Univax Biologics is designing a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that would be built in several years if the company needs to produce a larger volume of vaccines for the market.

The vaccines must first be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- a process that could take three to four years.

"This is a very big step for biotech companies to take," said Dr. Scott Winston, vice president for development at Univax. "We decided we wanted to control the manufacturing and marketing."

The company is starting clinical trials on two vaccines. One vaccine would help children with cystic fibrosis fight off bacterial infections; the other would protect hospital patients susceptible to life-threatening staph infections.

And by the way, Dr. Winston said, Univax would have been happy to use the Bioprocessing Center at the Johns Hopkins University Bayview Campus to make the vaccines for clinical trials -- if it had been ready.

The Bioprocessing Center, which has received $13 million from the state and is expected to open in two years, is aimed at helping small biotechnology companies produce the small amounts of drugs needed for clinical trials.

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