LONDON ¿ Xenova Group plc, of Slough, is looking for partners or buyers for its two technology subsidiaries, Xenova Discovery and MetaXen, to cut costs and allow the company to concentrate on discovery and development.

CEO David Oxlade said that, while natural products continue to be a source of competitive advantage for Xenova, ¿full ownership of the natural products screening and lead finding service business, as carried out by Xenova Discovery, is not considered essential for achievement of the group¿s objectives going forward. Management is therefore seeking appropriate partners for, or possibly a divestment of, its Xenova Discovery and MetaXen businesses, to ensure they are both cash neutral to the group by mid-1999.¿ MetaXen specializes in lead optimization and early-stage simultaneous modeling of the characteristics of potential drug candidates.

Oxlade added that, as part of any such transaction, Xenova would retain access to the libraries and other key technologies.

Xenova raised the ¿for sale¿ sign as it announced results for the year ended Dec. 31, 1998, showing a loss of #13.9 million (US$22.6 million), up from #13.4 million from 1997, on earnings of #4.9 million, up from #1.1 million in 1997. The increase was mainly due to payments from Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis, under the development deal for plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI-1), an antithrombotic intended for chronic use.

Expenditure rose to #19.5 million from #15.9 million. The company raised #10.5 million in a placement in October 1998, and ended the year with #11.4 million, compared to #15.2 million at the end of 1997.

Oxlade, who became CEO in March 1998, following the departure of founder Louis Nisbet, has focused Xenova on the discovery and development of drugs from natural sources for the treatment of cancer. These will be developed to the end of Phase II before partnering.

The company recently completed Phase I trials of XR9576 for the prevention of multi-drug resistance in patients receiving chemotherapy for cancer. The drug can be administered by injection or orally, and a Phase II trial is due to begin soon at a number of centers in the U.K. and the US. This will study XR9576 in combination with a variety of approved cytotoxic drugs, with the trial due to be completed before the end of 1999.

Xenova is also about to begin recruitment for a Phase II trial of XR5000, an inhibitor of topoisomerases I and II, enzymes which are involved in cancer cell division. The trials will study the effect of XR5000 on ovarian, colorectal, non small-cell lung cancers and glioma, in up to 25 patients per cancer, with interim results due by the end of 1999.