¿ Australian government officials, in their recently announced budget, set aside an additional A$31 million (US$18.3 million) over three years to develop the biotechnology industry in Australia. Most of the money, about A$20 million, will be used to provide "early stage assistance to researcher and companies to bridge the commercialization gap." There were no additional details on how the government intended to apply the funds to commercialization. The rest of the money will be spent on a range of biotech projects, including a public education program and one that will assess the environmental risks associated with genetically modified organisms. Once a budget is announced by the Australian government it is unlikely to be changed.

¿ Oxford BioMedica plc, of Oxford, UK, has extended its access to the family of cytochrome P450 enzymes in cancer gene therapy, through an expanded agreement with the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Under the deal Oxford BioMedica will pay an undisclosed up-front fee, milestones and royalties, and the U.S. partners will invest #275,000 in Oxford BioMedica shares. The cytochrome P450 gene CYP2B6 is the gene used in MetXia-P450, Oxford BioMedica's lead product, which is in Phase I/II trials. MetXia-P450 is targeted at the tumor, where the enzyme activates the chemotherapeutic drug cyclophosphamide. CEO Alan Kingsman said the expanded agreement was "a recognition and endorsement of the progress we have made in the clinical development of MetXia-P450 since signing the original agreement in October 1997."

¿ Prolifix Ltd., of Abingdon, UK, which specializes in cell cycle control, has been awarded a U.S. patent for a novel target in breast cancer. The company discovered that the cell cycle control protein CyclinD1 interacts directly with estrogen receptors and stimulates the proliferation of breast tumor cells. It is currently optimizing several small molecules that have been found to inhibit this interaction. CEO Brigit Norinder said the granting of the patent "further secures the company's position as a leading player in cell cycle-based drug discovery."

¿ The Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR), a UK government-funded center, has agreed an exclusive #20 million (US$29.5 million) license and collaboration agreement with the eye care company Allergan Inc., of Irvine, Calif., to commercialize CAMR's neurotoxin technology for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. Allergan will fund a joint research program with CAMR to generate clinical candidates and advance them to clinical trials. If successful the collaboration will then be extended to development and commercialization. In addition to #20 million for R&D fees and milestone payments, CAMR will be entitled to royalties on any products. CAMR's technology arises from research into the neurotoxins produced by the pathogen Clostridium botulinum. By removing the part of the neurotoxin that binds to motor nerve fibers, and attaching ligands which target the peripheral nerves responsible for transmitting pain signals, CAMR says it has produced a new class of long-lasting analgesic. It has few, if any, of the side effects of opiate products.

¿ Trigen Holdings plc, of London, last week put plans to float on London's Alternative Investment Market on hold, due to the downturn in the sector. The company, which has been privately financed since its formation in 1992, was aiming to raise #15 million (US$22 million). Trigen was formed to commercialize drug development work carried out by the charity the Thrombosis Research Institute in London. The company has three clinical candidates and controls two proprietary drug discovery technologies. Its lead compounds are an intravenous and an oral formulation of TRI 50b, a novel inhibitor of thrombin, one of the key components of the blood clotting process, and an inhibitor of Factor IXa, another component of blood clotting. The intravenous form of TRI 50b is in Phase II; the oral form has just completed two Phase I studies. Trigen intends to seek a pharmaceutical partner for late-stage clinical development.

¿ Eurogene Ltd., of London, has raised #15 million (US$22 million) in its second round of financing and said the money will be used to progress the development portfolio. It recently moved its lead product, a collar reservoir device for local gene delivery, into a Phase I study in blood vessel hyperplasia. Eurogene was formed in 1997 with seed funding from Merlin Ventures. In 1998 it raised #3 million in follow-on funding from the Merlin Fund. Other products in the pipeline include treatments for cachexia, psoriasis and angiogenic diseases of the eye. The collar reservoir device, inserted at the time of cardiac surgery, delivers a gene for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) via the outside surface of the blood vessels, using a lipid delivery system. The VEGF protein produced by the gene inhibits the proliferation of smooth muscle cells, thus preventing vessels being blocked. The collar biodegrades after 28 days. Delivery in this way is aimed at enhancing local gene delivery while limiting systemic exposure. The liposome vector is produced by Valentis Inc., of Burlingame, Calif., which has already demonstrated that it can be used with VEGF. Eurogene says the device could enter Phase II/III trials before the end of 2000.

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