BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The technology management group Medical Marketing International plc announced a joint venture with two universities to develop a treatment for HIV infections based on a technique for preventing the virus from entering host cells.

MMI's antiviral company, Viratis Ltd., will work with scientists at King's College, London and Queen Mary, University of London, which have discovered a way of removing two cell surface receptors that are essential for HIV to enter the host cell. It is a different approach from current registered therapies that prevent HIV from replicating once it is inside the cell.

The three partners already have spent 18 months working together on the project and have shown the technology reduces the viral load in human blood in vitro. The team also has developed an animal model, and the project is expected to enter the clinic in 12 to 18 months.

The joint venture will be based at Viratis and will be 50 percent owned by Cambridge-based MMI, while King's will have 18 percent, Queen Mary 20 percent and the founding scientists 12 percent. David Best, chairman of MMI, will chair the joint venture.

Shares in MMI rose by 100 percent to 14.5 pence when the deal was announced last week.