By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

Betting on its Phase II antisense cancer drug and research into stimulating the immune system, Hybridon Inc. has agreed to terms in the unloading of its DNA manufacturing business to Manchester, UK-based specialty chemical company Avecia.

"The time came, and the right buyer came," said Maggie Flanagan, senior director of business development for Milford, Mass.-based Hybridon.

She said the company began making oligonucleotides as a way to advance its antisense work. When, in 1997, its AIDS antisense drug GEM91 was pulled from the clinic because some patients in a Phase II trial experienced low platelet counts that required dose interruption, Hybridon focused on contract manufacturing, but was "always weighing the benefits of keeping the [DNA-making] business," Flanagan said. (See BioWorld Today, July 28, 1997, p. 1.)

With $1.8 million in cash in March, accounts receivable of about $1 million, and a burn rate of $650,000 to $700,000 per month, Hybridon decided to sell - but it was not a case of needing cash fast, she said.

"These are not things you do quickly," Flanagan said. "We've been talking to different individuals about acquiring our manufacturing business off and on for several years." Hybridon will maintain a manufacturing contract with Avecia.

In Phase II testing is GEM231, an antisense compound that targets protein kinase A, for the treatment of solid tumors. Other products are further back in the pipeline, and Hybridon said it also will expand its efforts in applying novel immunostimulatory DNA molecules containing the CpG motif.

Two months after GEM91 studies stopped, Hybridon's partner, F. Hoffmann-La Roche, of Basel, Switzerland, walked away from an antisense collaboration initiated in 1992 to identify lead compounds in hepatitis C and human papillomavirus. Hybridon got all rights back. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 5, 1997, p. 1.)

But, in 1996, Hybridon signed a potential $200 million alliance with G.D. Searle & Co., of Skokie, Ill., for antisense drug development, and expanded it two years later to include another gene target and the possibility of adding more targets in cancer and cardiovascular disease. (See BioWorld Today, July 22, 1998, p. 1; and Jan. 18, 1996, p. 1.)

"We hope and believe [the sale of the DNA-making business] is the beginning of a series of good news," Flanagan said.

Hybridon's stock (OTC:HYBN) closed Thursday at $1.562, down 31.25 cents.

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