PARIS ¿ The Strasbourg-based gene therapy company Transghne S.A. recorded a net loss of Euro3.7 million (FFr24.5 million, US$3.9 million) for the first quarter of 1999, a 65.5 percent increase relative to the final quarter of 1998 (FFr17.8 million).

No comparison can be made with the first three months of 1998, when Transghne had a net loss of Euro21.7 million due to a license payment of Euro23.7 million to Human Genome Sciences Inc., of Rockville, Md.

Revenues in the first quarter of this year amounted to just Euro1.5 million, against Euro7.9 million in the corresponding period of 1998. That also was an exceptional figure, since it was inflated by an initial license payment of Euro7.4 million (FFr48.6 million) that Transghne received from Schering-Plough Corp., of Madison, N.J., with which it concluded a collaboration agreement in February 1998.

Research and development spending rose to Euro5.5 million in the first quarter of 1999 from Euro5.1 million the year before. The company¿s managing director, Bernard Gilly, attributed that increase to the start of Phase II clinical trials of its Vero-IL2 gene therapy for the treatment of advanced mesothelioma. (See BioWorld International, March 17, 1999, p. 1.)

Transghne currently has four gene therapies in Phase II clinical trials. The other three are in breast cancer, prostate cancer and metastatic melanoma.

According to Gilly, in the first quarter of 1999 the company also ¿improved the quality of its research and development portfolio and its vectors. In particular, our new generation of adenovirus vectors enables the therapeutic protein to be produced for a long time without inflammation, while our new families of synthetic vectors have resulted in improved levels of expression being recorded for different modes of administration.¿

The company has developed five families of gene therapy vectors, three of which are of viral origin (adenovirus, retrovirus and vaccine virus), while one is cellular and the other synthetic.

As of March 31, Transghne had cash and short-term investments of Euro62.4 million , down from almost Euro66 million at the end of 1998. The company posted a net loss of FFr229.5 million for all of 1998, up from FFr77.4 million in 1997, due to increased outlays on clinical trials. Its revenues soared by 74 percent to FFr76.5 million in 1998 from FFr44 million the year before. n