SYDNEY, Australia - Despite a recent weakening in the market Down Under, two biotech floats - one Australian and the other in New Zealand - are in the process of raising US$30.4 million.

Genesis Research & Development Corp. Ltd., of Auckland, New Zealand, which has two products in the clinic, raised NZ$34.2 million (US$14 million), while Women's Health Biotechnologies Ltd., of Melbourne, which is working on women's health, plans to raise A$30 million (US$16.4 million).

Jim Watson, chief executive of Genesis Research, said the company's therapeutic vaccine treatment for psoriasis, Pvac, is undergoing a Phase II trial in the U.S. and a treatment for asthma called Avac, also a therapeutic vaccine, is in Phase I in Wellington, New Zealand.

The Phase II FDA-approved trial conducted in partnership with U.S.-based Corixa Corp. involves 240 patients and 13 sites. The Phase I trial in the New Zealand includes 60 patients.

Watson said that the Phase II trial was very large because Pvac is a therapeutic vaccine and the FDA has "never seen a product quite like this."

"Since no one has seen this sort of product before, the bigger the numbers in the trial the better," he said.

Both treatments arose from work by the company, founded by Watson and other researchers from Auckland University Medical School, on molecular regulators. The researchers initially targeted the soil microbe Mycobaterium vaccae, which appeared to contain unique immune-modulating properties. They cloned various genes from the microbe, which had key immune system functions, initially using one of the regulators discovered as a basis for tuberculosis treatment. Later the company realized the treatment could be used for psoriasis.

Genesis has various other intellectual properties including patents for the genes coding for lignin, the "glue" that holds trees together, as well as a number of expressed sequence tag (EST) databases, including one on skin cells and others for commercial species of pine and eucalyptus trees. An EST database consists of bits of DNA scattered through the organism's genome that can then be used to search for interesting genes, as an alternative to sequencing the entire genome.

In addition, the company has an active bioscreening program in partnership with Immunex Corp.

Genesis shares, issued recently at A$4.60 (they were issued to both Australian and New Zealand investors), reached A$5.20 by the close of business on Friday.

The IPO documents for Women's Health Biotechnologies state that the A$30 million to be raised in the float will be used to pay for substantial research and development program in collaboration with the Centre for Women's Health at Monash University in Melbourne. Aspects of women's health to be researched include endometriosis, fibroids and pregnancy disorders.

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