Enzyme work could bolster chemotherapyThink of all those...

LIFE SCIENCES

November 03, 1992|By Liz Bowie

Enzyme work could bolster chemotherapy

Think of all those polluting chemicals you put into your body each day -- air pollutants from downtown Baltimore, pesticides from vegetables and fumes from the dry cleaning.

So where do they all go? How does your body cope with them? The answer is enzymes -- chemicals that help the body filter toxic chemicals.

After a decade of work, a University of Maryland College Park biochemist, along with a colleague at the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology, has been able to describe the complex three-dimensional structure of an enzyme that will help scientists understand how the liver filters cancer-causing substances from the body.

Their work could lead to more effective chemotherapy drugs. In addition, it could help doctors spot people who might be more susceptible to environmental pollutants because they are deficient in the enzyme.

Known as glutathione S-transferase, or GST, the enzyme is able to digest or metabolize a pollutant. Obviously, though, GST metabolizes some pollutants better than others.

Dr. Richard Armstrong at College Park and Gary Gilliland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and CARB will continue working on a group of GST enzymes to better understand how the body's liver protects against pollutants.

The researchers have received their funding from the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. The new Scios Nova Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., is receiving good reviews from analysts, including a "buy" recommendation from Montgomery Securities and an above-average rating from Merrill Lynch Global Securities Research.

Montgomery Securities started covering the company after the merger of Nova Pharmaceutical Corp. of Baltimore and Scios Inc. of Mountain View. Based on the fact that the combined biotech company has two products in the late stages of clinical trials, analysts believe Scios Nova will become profitable in 1996.

They estimate sales of $108 million and earnings per share of 4 cents that year -- and dramatic growth the following year.

Merrill Lynch is even more enthusiastic.

Their analysts project the company will break even in 1995 and earn $1.45 a share on revenues of $290 million in 1996.

The analysts say they would "be inclined to upgrade the stockto buy once more clinical data becomes available that could help determine the actual market sizes that these products . . . will ultimately address."

Meanwhile, Boston-based Cowen & Co. gives Scios Nova an "outperform" rating because of the company's strong technology base and the fact that products will appear soon.

Scios stock fell sharply after the Nova merger was announced, apparently because investors believed Scios paid too much in ++ the deal. But Montgomery analysts say the market overreacted.

"We believe Nova possessed good science, but weak management," their latest report said. With new management, Montgomery's analysts see better times ahead.

500 students tour UMAB medical center

Where do you go to see cadavers, sperm banks and computers? About 500 Baltimore-area students found them during a recent tour of the University of Maryland at Baltimore and its medical center.

Such tours are designed to make science and medicine real to schoolchildren. And it apparently worked pretty well, according to Meredith Schwartz, a language arts teacher from Calverton Middle School in West Baltimore. Two groups of students between ages 13 and 15 went on the tours.

"These kids were just eating it up. They couldn't get close enough," she said of their visit to a plastic surgery center.

The school stresses that students start thinking about their future, Ms. Schwartz said. So, they asked university researchers some bottom-line questions of researchers, such as "How much money do you make?" and "How many years of college and graduate school did you have before starting your career?"

The teacher's only concern was the lack of Asian- and African-American faces among researchers.

"Our children are all African-Americans. If they see African-Americans represented, then they say, 'Oh, wow, this is something I can do,' " Ms. Schwartz said.

According to the university's community relations director, the tours will be offered again in the spring.

Oncor, German firm to sell diagnostic tests

Oncor Inc. of Gaithersburg hopes to boost sales of diagnostic tests for cancer and genetic diseases through an agreement signed recently with a German company, Amersham Buchler of Braunschweig.

Amersham and its subsidiaries will sell and distribute the product in Germany, Switzerland and some Eastern European countries.

Oncor said the two companies expect to develop products together in the future.

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