Five-in-one vaccine breakthrough reportedNorth American...

LIFE SCIENCES

May 18, 1993|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,STAFF WRITER

Five-in-one vaccine breakthrough reported

North American Vaccine Inc. of Beltsville said yesterday it had reached a breakthrough in the development of a childhood vaccine that would prevent five illnesses with a single shot. The vaccine, tested on animals, appears to be effective in getting the immune system to respond to the diseases, the company said. It is presenting detailed results at the 1993 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta.

The company believes the vaccine will be appealing to doctors and patients because it could reduce the number of shots and visits to the pediatrician's office. In the long run, the company adds, its vaccine might improve the chances that children are immunized.

The vaccine is designed to protect against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Haemophilus influenza type b, which is a major cause of meningitis in infants.

Still, it may be years before the vaccine is approved for sale.

The stock price of North American Vaccine, which develops vaccines for infectious diseases, closed yesterday at $11, up 37.5 cents.

Ultraviolet light used to fight fruit pests

Scientists at the U.S. Agricultural Research Service in Greenbelt are intensifying their efforts to find natural weapons to replace chemicals in the battle against pests that attack vegetables and fruits.

In particular, they're looking for ways to control disease and decay after fruits and vegetables are harvested, so the foods don't need to be sprayed with chemicals.

Working with scientists at Tuskegee University in Alabama and the Volcani Center in Israel, a scientist in Greenbelt has been able to reduce rot in peaches, apples, citrus, tomatoes and onions by treating them with ultraviolet light and yeasts.

Investors shunning anti-sepsis drugs

They call it the "s-word" because it's the latest in bad language among biotech investors.

It's sepsis. The illness kills about 70,000 people, mostly hospital patients, in the nation each year. And it has nearly felled a couple of companies designing drugs to attack it.

"It is out of vogue in the investment financial community," said Xoma Corp. Chief Executive John L. Castello at an Alex. Brown & Sons conference last week. "But if you go into intensive-care wards, it is still very much in vogue. . . . It is deadly earnest."

A year ago, at least three major biotech companies believed they had a new blockbuster drug to cure the potentially fatal blood infection. Numerous other biotech or health care companies are developing products aimed at detecting the bacteria, protecting patients from it or treating it in some way.

Last year, the feeling at the Alex. Brown conference in Baltimore was bubbly as investors anticipated a breakthrough drug from Synergen Inc. of Boulder, Colo., Centocor Inc. of Malvern, Pa., or Xoma of Berkeley, Calif. One luncheon speaker devoted an entire talk to current scientific understanding of the disease.

But both the Synergen and Centocor drugs have failed in the final clinical analysis to live up to expectations, and the companies' stock has suffered. Synergen stock, for example, lost 62 percent of its value on Feb. 22 after a company announcement that its drug, Antril, was not as effective as believed. That news -- and uncertainty about the Clinton health reform proposals -- helped send the high-risk biotech market into a nose-dive from which it has not recovered.

Mr. Castello believes that a lucrative market still exists for a product to treat sepsis. But investors and scientists are wondering whether the disease is so complicated that it might be years before any effective treatment is found -- and whether the treatment may consist of a mixture of different drugs.

In the meantime, investors seem to be turning to other promising drug developments in the biotech industry.

Japanese subsidiary to test Biospherics drug

Biospherics Inc. of Beltsville has decided to leave the testing, development and marketing of its patented natural carbohydrate pesticide to the wholly owned subsidiary of a Japanese chemical company, Sumitomo Chemical Company Ltd.

Valent USA Corp. of Walnut Creek, Calif., has signed an agreement that allows it to do research on the natural pesticide in field trials around the country. Bio- spherics says those trials should begin immediately.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

Rhode Island bond issue would aid biotech plant

Rhode Island is putting its money behind a commitment to attract biotech businesses. Recently, the state port authority approved a $35 million bond issue to finance 80 percent of the cost of a new $43 million plant.

Cell Therapeutics Inc. of Seattle, a biotech company developing drugs, plans to employ 200 people immediately and 500 people within the next five years at a Smithfield, R.I., facility. The median income of the workers to be hired would be $46,000.

The bond issue is contingent on the company raising an additional $30 million through a secondary public stock offering or through a joint agreement with another company. Cell Therapeutics also must put aside $7 million to cover interest payments on the debt for two years.

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