PARIS ¿ Biovector Therapeutics has completed a strategic restructuring under new management with the aim of focusing on its core business of developing innovative drug delivery systems.

It brings to an end nearly two years of upheaval at the company, which is based near Toulouse, in southwestern France, following its failed bid to launch an IPO on the Nouveau Marchi in Paris in early 1999. That led to the sidelining and subsequent ouster of former CEO Emile Loria, who left the company in September 2000. Then followed a six-month interregnum under a temporary management team, which came to an end last May when Jean-Paul Rohmer was appointed president and CEO and Muriel Brossard became general manager.

Rohmer is a start-up specialist who joined Biovector Therapeutics as a nonexecutive board member in September 2000. He is not full time now, moreover, since he runs two other businesses in the Toulouse area, one of which, HLA-G Technologies, is a young firm specialized in immunology. Brossard joined Biovector in 1996 and was director of business development between 1997 and May this year.

During its reorganization, Biovector trimmed its work force from over 60 in 1999 to just 23 now. Almost all its present employees are scientific staff, since it has contracted out all administrative tasks. The company has repositioned itself as a subcontractor and supplier of patented drug delivery technologies, having decided to cease in-house development of therapeutic compounds for the time being (its drug development research was focused on cancer and certain infectious diseases using a curative or preventive immunotherapy approach).

Brossard told BioWorld International that the company was continuing to develop a range of proprietary delivery systems that are designed to improve the acceptance, delivery and efficacy of therapeutic agents like DNA, peptides, proteins, vaccines and insoluble compounds. The latest delivery system it patented is designed for the administration of drugs that are not easily soluble in water, and the company stressed the potential of this technology by pointing out that a recent study identified 23 drugs on the market that could benefit from a formulation improving their solubility.

Biovector¿s early success was due to its development of a nasal spray for the administration of vaccines, making them more pleasant for the patient, as well as enhancing their efficacy through the production of antibodies at nasal mucus and systemic levels. This technology was used by BioChem Pharma, of Laval, Quebec, to develop a trivalent influenza vaccine, which completed a successful Phase I trial in October 1998. On the strength of that success, two months later the Canadian company signed a worldwide development, production and marketing agreement for the product with the British company SmithKline Beecham, of London.

However, Brossard said that Biovector¿s collaboration with BioChem Pharma ended some time ago and that the two companies now are negotiating a termination agreement. Moreover, she added, SmithKline subsequently abandoned the BioChem/Biovector product in favor of its own delivery technology.

Two of Biovector¿s other collaborations, one concluded with Biomira Inc., of Edmonton, Alberta, in September 1998, and one signed with Bayer Corp., of Pittsburgh, in March 1999, also lapsed. Biomira was developing a vaccine against B-cell lymphoma using the patient¿s own cancer cells, while Bayer was to assess the feasibility of Biovector¿s DNA delivery technology platforms in DNA vaccine applications and the expression of blood-circulating proteins.

On the other hand, Brossard said Biovector would soon be announcing some ¿good news¿ about one ongoing collaboration and the signing of other agreements with new partners.

In addition to its primary activity, Biovector is seeking to revitalize its Paris-based subsidiary, Peptide Immune Ligands (PIL), which is specialized in delivery systems based on the use of lipopeptides. Brossard said Biovector was engaged in a funding round to raise funds specifically for PIL. Several applications of its technology in the field of therapeutic vaccines (for HIV and cancer) are undergoing clinical trials.

One prototype application developed by Biovector itself was a vaccine for certain cancers, and this program has now been transferred to PIL. Called Lipomel, the product was in the indication of advanced melanoma in a Phase II trial conducted in France in 2000-01, the results of which are still being analyzed, said Brossard. She added that, depending on available resources, PIL could develop a version for the treatment of HIV.