BioWorld International Correspondent

SYDNEY, Australia - Biotron Ltd. raised A$12 million (US$6.6 million) in an initial public offering in Australia in order to develop two diagnostic tests for solid tumors and a potential treatment for HIV, in addition to other projects.

The Sydney-based company will use the money raised in the offering that closed Friday to develop discoveries made at the John Curtin School of Medicine at the Australian National University in the national capital of Canberra. The research was predominantly the work of scientist Chris Parish.

Of those projects the company will initially focus on what its executives believe are the two most promising - two related diagnostic tests and a potential HIV treatment, with the two diagnostic tests being closest to the market.

Biotron Managing Director Noel Chambers said that both tests are based on the results of extensive research into tumors at the John Curtin School. The first test checks for the absence of an "element" in the blood, a substance that normally circulates in the blood but is not present if there is a tumor. Chambers declined to specify the nature of the substance.

The second test diagnoses the type of tumor in the body by checking for a "tumor fingerprint" of the presence or absence of various substances in the bloodstream, where the fingerprint of each tumor has been established at John Curtin.

The detection test is at the stage where human blood is being tested and the protocols defined for use in Phase II clinical trials. Biotron anticipates those trials to be much less difficult than the trials for a disease treatment, as the usual problems of compliance and volunteer numbers will be greatly reduced.

Chambers said that because the diagnostics use blood taken from the patient there is no question of any risk to the patient and blood from patients suffering from cancer will be readily available for use in the trials. In addition, the statistical analysis of the results should be more straightforward than in drug trials.

Biotron intends to be in a position to look for partners to put the diagnostic products on the market by the middle of next year.

The second development project, known as Virion, involves developing antiviral agents to control or block the ion channels, which some viruses with changeable outer envelopes use to replicate. Those viruses include HIV, Ross River fever (a tropical Australian disease), Barman Forest fever and Dengue fever.

The company is developing a compound that blocks ion channel activity in one of the HIV proteins, but Chambers said the company would not proceed until it had established an alliance with a pharmaceutical company.