Altachem Pharma Ltd., of Edmonton, Alberta, closed an arm’s length private placement of 8.5 million units at C$1.20 per unit, for aggregate gross proceeds of C$10.2 million (US$6.4 million). Publicly traded Altachem is a pharmaceutical company developing an integrated approach for the treatment of HIV/AIDS and cancer with two proprietary drugs, HIP and HB.

Cytyc Corp., of Boxborough, Mass., and Digene Corp., of Gaithersburg, Md., said that Cytyc, through its wholly owned subsidiary Cruiser Inc., began its previously announced exchange offer for all outstanding shares of Digene common stock in a merger that was valued at about $554 million. Each Digene shareholder will receive $4 per share in cash plus 1.1969 shares of Cytyc stock for every share of Digene stock. The exchange offer is scheduled to expire March 28. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 20, 2002.)

Elan Corp. plc, of Dublin, Ireland, and Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, the pharmaceutical division of Madison, N.J.-based American Home Products Corp., said they decided not to resume further dosing of AN-1792, an experimental immunotherapeutic under development for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. In early January, Wyeth and Elan suspended all clinical dosing with AN-1792 in the Phase 2a study after learning that four patients in France were reported to have experienced clinical signs consistent with inflammation in the central nervous system. Since then, 11 additional patients were reported with symptoms associated with CNS inflammation. Patients will continue to be followed to assess safety.

International Society for Cellular Therapy, of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the new name for ISHAGE, a long-standing organization of professionals in cellular engineering and therapies. The society’s activities have grown, in recent years, to include mesenchymal stem cells, immunotherapies, dendritic cells, islet cells, gene therapy and more. The name change reflects the scientific and clinical expansion of cell therapies beyond hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

Genome Prairie, of Calgary, Alberta, said it entered a C$19.5 million (US$12.1 million) joint research agreement with the following research laboratories: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research facilities in Saskatoon and Lethbridge and the National Research Council Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon. The project will involve academic researchers from five provinces, and they will work with both wheat and canola, examining the whole plant and studying the crops at the molecular level. In determining which proteins and genes are involved in regulating a plant’s response to low temperatures, the study will provide information that may lead to the development of plants with improved stress-resistance properties. The researchers also will study canola’s response to metal and nutrient stresses.

Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc., of San Diego, presented at the American Academy of Dermatology meeting in New Orleans study results that showed more than 85 percent of patients with early stage cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) who were treated for at least one year with Targretin gel (bexarotene gel 1%) responded to treatment. Thirty-seven of 43 patients (86 percent) responded positively (greater than or equal to 50 percent improvement by a Physician’s Global Assessment), including 12 who achieved clinical complete clearing. Targretin gel was generally well tolerated. Adverse events occurring in 5 percent or more of patients included skin irritation, itching, redness, burning and pain, and were primarily confined to the application site.

MDS Proteomics Inc., of Toronto, said it developed a novel method to determine if drugs and drug targets are effective in combating disease, allowing MDS and partners to distinguish between healthy and diseased cells to uncover protein targets against which new drugs will be made. Researchers identified the regulatory switches known as phosphorylation sites, which activate or deactivate proteins within a cell. Details are reported in the March 1, 2002, edition of Nature Biotechnology.

Merck & Co. Inc., of Whitehouse Station, N.J., reported at the ninth Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle, preliminary analysis of early human data suggesting that its HIV-1 gag vaccine candidates for the prevention and treatment of HIV-1 elicit specific antiviral cellular immune responses and are generally well tolerated. The news marked the first time Merck discussed data from human testing of its two leading HIV-1 vaccine candidates an HIV-1 gag DNA vaccine and an HIV-1 gag replication-defective adenovirus vaccine. Both candidates elicit gag-specific anti-HIV-1 cellular immune responses in HIV-1-uninfected subjects. The HIV-1 gag DNA vaccine candidate used plasmid DNA as a vector. The HIV-1 gag replication-defective adenovirus vaccine candidate is based on a modified common cold virus as a vector. In an ongoing study of the investigational HIV-1 gag DNA vaccine, no T-cell immune responses were detected among the placebo subjects. Among the other subjects, T-cell immune responses were shown in 20.6 percent of those who received the 1-mg dose and 42.1 percent of those who received the 5-mg dose.

MetaGen Pharmaceuticals GmbH, of Berlin, signed a bioinformatics collaboration with InforSense Ltd., of London, and MicroDiscovery GmbH, of Berlin. The agreements provide MetaGen with additional information technology to accelerate and validate in-house data mining processes. MetaGen uses an integrated suite of tools and technologies to mine existing sequence information and extrapolate genetic information from patient tumor samples. InforSense will provide MetaGen with Kensington Discovery Edition, a discovery software platform. MetaGen will use it for the interactive analysis of large data sets. InforSense will create and integrate features that arise from the companies’ interaction. Financial terms were not disclosed.

National Institutes of Health, of Bethesda, Md., said government scientists developed a hybrid vaccine that protects mice from West Nile virus infection, as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The vaccine is made of a weakened combination of two viruses formed by removing key genes from dengue virus and replacing them with West Nile virus genes. The vaccine will be tested in monkeys next month, with human trials scheduled to begin later in the year.

Scil Biomedicals GmbH, of Martinsried, Germany, named Thomas Keller its CEO. Two months ago, Keller joined the company as its vice president of marketing and sales. Previously, he was the vice president of commercial operations at Knoll Germany GmbH, of Ludwigshafen, Germany. Scil develops protein-based biopharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Thermogenic Imaging Inc., of Billerica, Mass., said it completed a concurrent spinout and $6.5 million venture financing. The company also has appointed its initial board of directors. Thermogenic Imaging was formed in late 2000 to commercialize a new technology for drug discovery developed by GlaxoSmithKline plc, of London, and FLIR Systems Inc. The technology, Thermal Signature Analysis, uses noninvasive ultra-sensitive thermal imaging to measure unique thermal signatures in cells and animals that are indicative of disease, genetic variations or drug function.

Tibotec-Virco NV, of Mechelen, Belgium, said the first efficacy data of TMC125, a next-generation, non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, demonstrated significant antiviral activity in HIV patients infected with NNRTI-resistant virus and failing NNRTI therapy. The results were presented at the ninth Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle. In the 16-patient study, the median reduction in viral load was 87 percent after seven days of treatment; the reductions ranged from 37 percent to 98 percent. Viral load continued to decrease on the eighth day.

Trinity Medical Group USA Inc., of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., said that as part of its new drug application for Remune filed in Thailand, the Thai Ministry of Public Health has been presented with an independent Remune study conducted in Spain. This study, known as STIR 2102, was a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of HIV-positive patients that successfully met its clinical endpoints, as decided by an independent Data Safety Monitoring Board. The study’s principal investigator presented results to the Thai FDA last month.

Viragen Inc., of Plantation, Fla., will present results of a controlled Phase II/III German study for the adjuvant treatment of malignant melanoma with its natural interferon during the March 15-16 conference on the Adjuvant Therapy of Malignant Melanoma, in London. The company provided a glimpse of the data, saying it should provide evidence for the safety and efficacy of its product. Viragen added that although there was no statistically significant increase in overall survival, the probability of relapse-free survival after five years was doubled in the treated patients.

YM BioSciences Inc., of Mississauga, Ontario, filed a preliminary prospectus with Canadian securities regulatory authorities in certain provinces in connection with a series 1 public offering of its Class B preferred shares. The shares will be offered on an agency basis through Canaccord Capital Corp. in Canada and Canaccord Capital (Europe) Ltd. elsewhere. All shares are being issued and sold by the company. Net proceeds will be used primarily to develop YM’s licensed oncology products.