LONDON - British Biotech plc is shifting the focus of its metalloenzyme inhibition expertise to antibiotics, as it attempts to move beyond the shadow of marimastat, its oral anticancer drug. It expects to have a lead compound, for the treatment of respiratory tract infections, in development by the end of 2000, and has targets in other areas, including hospital-acquired infections.
"If you look back to six months ago British Biotech equaled marimastat. That veiled everything else," finance director Tony Weir told BioWorld International. "We want people to start looking at what is under the veil."
In the past year British Biotech, based in Oxford, has moved from having marimastat and two other compounds to having marimastat, five compounds and an anti-infective development program. "We have not got enough yet, and need to broaden the portfolio further, by going outside, and through internal development," he said.
The company has identified metalloenzymes that are essential to the survival of bacteria and do not occur in humans. "Because the development time for antibiotics is shorter than other drugs, we see this as a faster route to commercializing our matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors," Weir said.
The company outlined the future strategy as it reported financial results for the year ended April 30. The loss after tax was reduced from #39.8 million in 1999 to #25.4 million, while cash burn fell to #22.2 million from #34.8 million. There was #75.7 million (US$114.5 million) in cash.
Last month staff numbers were cut from 230 to 140, a move that will cut cash burn by a further #8 million per annum. Weir said the possibility of winding up the company and giving the money back to investors was considered. "You have got to look at all the options. We believe we can deliver value to shareholders by investing in drug development, but we have to be able to justify what we are doing."
He also said that the possibility of a name change was "on the agenda. British Biotech is a well recognized name, but that is [because of] notoriety rather than for good reasons."
British Biotech has endured two years negative publicity, much of it focused on marimastat, which has failed in four successive Phase III trials. Two other trials due to report this year are also expected to be negative. The company is hopeful of positive results in two further trials in small-cell-lung cancer, and has not quite airbrushed marimastat out of the portfolio as yet.