BioWorld International Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel - Pharmos Corp. said it received about US$4.4 million from the Office of the Chief Scientist of Israel's Ministry of Industry and Trade, a 24 increase over last year's OCS funding.

Neither the total number of awards granted nor the total amount was announced yet. Last year, 10 awards were made.

Of Pharmos' award, about US$3.1 million was allocated to its traumatic brain injury application for dexanabinol, with the rest earmarked to develop the bicyclic cannabinoid CB2-selective receptor agonist for prevention of cognitive impairment, and to treat autoimmune and neurological diseases.

Haim Aviv, chairman and CEO of Pharmos, of Rehovot, Israel, and Iselin, N.J., told BioWorld International, "The effects of this sizable grant validates our technological approach and will be deeply reaching for Pharmos in boosting our dexanabinol development program."

About 600 patients have been enrolled in more than 60 centers in Europe, Israel and Australia in the Phase III program testing of dexanabinol for TBI; enrollment of patients in the U.S. is expected to commence shortly.

Enrollment of more than 200 heart surgery patients in Phase IIa trials of dexanabinol in reducing post-surgical cognitive impairment is under way in three Israeli centers.

Patient enrollment in both trials is expected to be completed around the end of 2003.

At the same time, the CB2-selective program, "a novel approach to treat pain, is addressing a substantial, unmet need," Aviv said. CB2-selective compounds are cannabinoids that bind preferentially to the nonpsychotropic cannabis receptor. Side effects are minimal while CB2-selective agonists are expected to be effective in inflammation, multiple sclerosis and pain reduction, Aviv said.

The 2003 award is the largest single OCS grant received by Pharmos to date. The company will be required to pay royalties to the OCS of 2 percent to 5 percent from product sales resulting from the research supported with these funds, up to their total amount.

Also related to new grants, the OCS made an unprecedented move, suspending a grant of nearly $4 million that was awarded to XTL Biopharmaceuticals Ltd. due to concerns about a hostile takeover.

XTL, a Rehovot-based drug development company that trades on the London Stock Exchange, was to receive $1.9 million during May and a further $1.5 million in a follow-on grant to support its product development.

In a letter to XTL, the OCS attributed its decision to widespread news reports of chain-rattling by London-based Shore Capital Group plc. The private investment house recently purchased large numbers of XTL shares and has been making statements indicating that it would take over XTL, oust the executive team and then sell off the company's intellectual property. XTL was established in 1993 and became a public company in 2000.

The Israeli government ministry decided to "withhold granting the funds earmarked for XTL until the situation is clarified."

Martin Becker, XTL president and CEO, expressed concern about the "seriousness of this development" at a time when XTL is in clinical trials with its HepeX product line, which "could potentially provide revolutionary therapies for viral hepatitis, including prevention of re-infection after liver transplantation."