Cancer therapy test results spur Genetic stock

September 09, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

The stock price of Genetic Therapy Inc. rose $2 a share yesterday, to $17.25, after the Gaithersburg biotechnology company reported its genetic therapy for brain cancer had produced positive results in five of eight patients.

Tumors in three of the five patients shrank and changed $H consistency. In two of the five, the tumors changed consistency, but did not shrink. Researchers consider a change in consistency a sign the cancer responded to treatment.

The interim results were reported at the 10th International Conference on Brain Tumor Research and Therapy in Stalheim, Norway. The study, which began in December, is being conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.

"This is exciting first data. . . . It has tremendous promise," said Paul Boni, a biotechnology industry analyst for Mehta & Isaly Worldwide Pharmaceutical Research in New York.

But Mr. Boni predicted the company won't reap the full commercial benefits for several years. The company will have to prove the safety and effectiveness of the treatment on dozens more people before the federal government will approve it for sale, he said.

M. James Barrett, chairman of Genetic Therapy, said that while he was very encouraged by the results, he "certainly wouldn't characterize this as a cure."

All of the subjects were people with recurring tumors who hadn't been helped by conventional treatments.

Dr. Barrett said the company is going to expand the study to about 60 patients. The NIH will choose the next group of patients, Dr. Barrett said.

In the study, physicians took cells from mice and loaded them with viral markers that attach to cells that divide, and injected them into the brain tumors.

Since tumors are rapidly growing cells, and the brain doesn't have dividing cells, the physicians injected an anti-viral drug (one commonly used to fight herpes) into the brain. That drug killed only the marked cells in the tumor.

Although the therapy is uniquely designed for the brain -- the only area in the body without dividing cells -- the company said it is experimenting with a similar therapy for other kinds of cancer.

Dr. Barrett said the company feels the therapy might help people with lung cancer, for example, because the first group of patients saw improvements comparatively quickly -- within a month after treatment.

Dr. Barrett said that the markers and drugs may act quickly enough that they can reduce the tumors without doing damage to slow-growing cells such as lung cells.

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