By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

V.I. Technologies Inc. (also known as Vitex) has licensed the exclusive worldwide distribution rights to its Inactine Technology to Amersham Pharmacia Biotech.

The deal involves an undisclosed but "significant" up-front payment to Vitex and royalties on any sales of the viral inactivation technology. The deal is the first of several likely to be announced by the Uppsala, Sweden-based Amersham as the company moves into the field of biosafety. Amersham will offer the Inactine technology to companies wishing to inactivate viruses found in vaccines, blood supplies and therapeutic proteins.

The deal allows Vitex to continue its focus on developing virally inactivated red blood cells.

"We really are very pleased with the deal," said John Barr, president and CEO of the Watertown, Mass.-based Vitex. "[Amersham] is the leader in this field. This is another absolutely rigorous due diligence for the technology."

The Inactine technology that is the basis of the deal came originally from Pentose Pharmaceuticals Inc., a private company Vitex acquired last July. Vitex acquired Pentose to enhance its efforts with Pall Corp., of East Hill, N.Y., to develop virally inactivated blood cells.

"Amersham made the initial inquiry about this technology to Pentose over a year ago, before we acquired them," Barr said. "When they came to us with a strong interest, we responded in kind."

Vitex currently has the only FDA-approved method for inactivating viruses in plasma. The company's plasma product, PLAS+SD, is human plasma treated with a solvent detergent to remove all enveloped viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis B and human lymphotrophic virus. The process, however, doesn't neutralize viruses that lack a lipid envelope, such as parvoviruses.

The Pentose Inactine technology solves that problem by inactivating all classes of viruses known to infect blood. Inactine products are small, electrophilic molecules that selectively bind and irreversibly modify the RNA and DNA in the virus. By modifying the viral genetic material, Inactine prevents viral replication without altering the cells and proteins with critical therapeutic value.

Cangene, a Canadian biopharmaceutical company specializing in plasma and recombinant therapeutic proteins has recently incorporated the Inactine technology into the manufacture of its varicella zoster immune globulin product. The company will start its first clinical trials of the product by the end of the year. Cangene originally had a deal with Vitex, but that arrangement will be transferred to Amersham, Barr said.

Currently, Vitex has a contract organization manufacture the Inactine technology. Amersham may choose to bring the manufacturing in house, Barr noted.

"This deal allows us to establish Inactine as the viral inactivation technology of choice in the broadest, most expedient manner," Barr said. "It also allows us to focus on our red blood cell work, which we think could be a $2 billion opportunity."

Vitex's stock (NASDAQ:VITX) closed Thursday at $8.187, up 75 cents.