Following its frustration with thymosin alpha 1 for treatment of chronic hepatitis B, Alpha 1 Biomedicals Inc. cut its staff, reduced expenses and is preparing to launch a new clinical development program for another drug based on a peptide from thymic extract. Alpha 1 President and CEO Vincent Simmon told BioWorld thymosin beta 4 (TB4), which yielded positive preclinical results in several applications, is "unrelated in chemical structure" to thymosin alpha 1 (TA1), the company's first thymic extract product. In late April, disappointing Phase III U.S. trial results for TA1 sent stock prices of Alpha 1 and its licensing partner, SciClone Pharmaceuticals Inc., into a steep dive. Alpha 1 dropped 68 percent to $2 and SciClone fell 59 percent to $5.19. Since then, Bethesda, Md.-based Alpha 1 sold worldwide licensing rights for TA1 to SciClone, of San Mateo, Calif., in return for royalties. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 23, 1994, p. 1.) In addition, Alpha 1 has reduced its burn rate by laying off 17 people, two thirds of its staff, and has moved TB4 from the "back burner" to its lead clinical development project. With $6 million in cash, Simmon said, Alpha 1 has enough resources to continue operating into 1996. TB4, according to Alpha 1's researchers, affects the polymerization of actin. Excess polymerized actin, the scientists said, has been linked to disorders, such as sepsis, cystic fibrosis, asthma, adult respiratory distress syndrome and chronic bronchitis. In Alpha 1's animal models, Simmon added, TB4 showed promise treating cystic fibrosis and septic shock as well as reducing the toxicity of chemotherapy. He said the company will continue preclinical studies in those areas and in the next few months select applications for clinical development. In addition to TB4, Alpha 1 is working with Cel-Sci Corp., of Alexandria, Va., on a p17 core-based vaccine for AIDS. Alpha 1's stock (NASDAQ:ALBM) closed Friday at $1.03, up 9 cents. n 101094ALPHA1

-- Charles Craig Staff Writer

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