Drug experiment spurs Human Genome shares

Stock rises $9.50 as expanded trials of Repifermin are set


January 19, 2000|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Shares in Human Genome Sciences Inc., which have rocketed more than 500 percent in the past 12 months, jumped even higher yesterday in expectation of an announcement today that the company will expand human trials of an experimental drug to control a painful side effect of chemotherapy.

Shares in Human Genome gained $9.50, or 5.2 percent, to $194.125 on the Nasdaq. The stock traded as low as $28.75 in February.

The drug, Repifermin, is being tested to see if it can control mucositis. The condition is marked by painful sores in the mouth and throat that often follow chemotherapy, which kills the mucosal cells. There is no effective treatment for it; patients are given a mouthwash to help alleviate pain.

The Rockville-based bio-pharmaceutical company is expected to announce that it will move the drug into Phase II clinical trials. The studies will assess the drug's effectiveness in patients who have undergone bone-marrow transplants for cancer.

The drug -- in a class of emerging new treatments called growth factors because they stimulate cell and tissue growth -- will be tested at several medical centers in the United States, said Kate de Santis, a Human Genome spokeswoman.

Dr. Francis G. LeVeque, director of the oral oncology program at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit where the drug has been tested, said early studies of the drug are "encouraging." Medical professionals are hopeful the drug will provide a solution for mucositis, he said. The condition affects more than 200,000 U.S. cancer patients annually.

Repifermin, which is based on a naturally occurring protein that triggers growth of mucosal tissue, did not cause any adverse effects in early human trials, the company said.

Human Genome is also testing Repifermin, formerly known as KGF-2, as a treatment for venous ulcers.

Schering-Plough Corp. holds first rights to co-develop and market Repifermin. If it passes on the deal, drug giant SmithKline Beecham PLC can license the marketing rights.

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