BioWorld International Correspondent

SYDNEY, Australia - Melbourne-based Biota Holdings Ltd. strengthened its ability to hunt for new lead antiviral compounds by acquiring NuMAX Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Carlsbad, Calif., for US$8 million plus stock.

The deal, which also gives Biota a U.S. base - it previously had a small representative office - involves the company paying US$8 million (A$15.4 million) over two years to fund NuMAX's drug discovery program, using cash flow from royalties of its established flu-cure product Relenza, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, and a related diagnostic kit.

In addition, NuMAX founders and employees will be issued employee stock equivalent to 20 percent of the unlisted U.S. company, to be renamed Biota Inc. The listed Biota Holdings will hold the remaining 80 percent of the U.S. company.

Sterling Johnson, an executive with considerable experience in the industry, including 20 years with Eli Lilly and Co. and five years with The Liposome Co., has been appointed CEO of the U.S. company. NuMAX founder P. Dan Cook will become chief science officer of Biota Inc.

Hugh Niall, CEO of Biota Holdings, said, "With the acquisition of NuMAX Pharmaceuticals, Biota Holdings has immediately added new viral targets and a new technology to its R&D portfolio. It will also accelerate Biota's push into the U.S. biotechnology market."

Niall told BioWorld International that NuMAX has "several complementary technologies" for screening and identifying antiviral agents, including focused in-house compound libraries, more efficient screening methods and improved delivery technologies. Those delivery technologies include compounds designed to improve the ability of selected molecules to get through cell membranes.

As part of Biota's ongoing research program in antiviral treatments, the company recently announced promising lead compounds for rhinovirus infections.

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