* Biomatrix Inc., of Ridgefield, N.J., signed Novartis Pharma AG, of Basel, Switzerland, as its Latin American and Caribbean marketing partner for Synvisc, a viscosupplementation product for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. In exchange for exclusive marketing and distribution rights in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, Novartis will pay Biomatrix $3.5 million in fees and will fund three Biomatrix-employed medical specialists to assist in the marketing effort. Novartis will assume responsibility for obtaining marketing approval in the licensed markets and will conduct post-marketing clinical trials in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Synvisc won FDA approval in August 1997.
* Celgene Corp., of Warren, N.J., initiated a multidose Phase I trial of the lead drug from the company's selective cytokine inhibitory drugs (SelCID) program. The double-blind, placebo-controlled trial seeks to enroll up to 18 patients to test the safety of multiple dosing over as many as seven days. Celgene expects to begin Phase II studies of the SelCID drug later this year. SelCIDs are small-molecule inhibitors of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). Chronic overproduction of TNF-alpha is associated with such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.
* Discovery Laboratories Inc., of New York, has agreed to merge with its majority-owned subsidiary, Acute Therapeutics Inc. (ATI), of Doylestown, Pa. Discovery said it will acquire all outstanding shares of ATI's common stock through a merger of ATI Acquisition Corp. into ATI, and that it will relocate its headquarters to ATI's Doylestown location. Among other terms, ATI shareholders will receive 3.91 shares of Discovery common stock for each share of ATI. Discovery gains ATI's lead product, Surfaxin, a peptide-containing lung surfactant designed to treat acute respiratory distress syndrome.
* Hybridon Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., is extending for an additional 20 business days the currently pending exchange offer to the holders of its 9 percent convertible subordinated notes due 2004. The new expiration time is 12 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time), April 6, 1998. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 26, 1998.)
* The Immune Response Corp., of Carlsbad, Calif., launched a Phase I clinical trial in Great Britain of its HIV therapeutic vaccine, Remune, used together with a combination of antiviral drugs consisting of a protease inhibitor, two antiviral nucleoside analogues and interleukin-2.
* Immunex Corp., of Seattle, reported statistically significant results from an 89-patient, seven-site trial of its rheumatoid arthritis drug, Enbrel, in combination with methotrexate. Patients treated with the combination experienced a significant decrease in disease activity and an increase in their functional ability when compared to patients treated with methotrexate alone.
* Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Redwood City, Calif., and Genelabs Technologies Inc., of Carlsbad, Calif., agreed to collaborate on a project related to their U.S. Department of Defense grants to develop anti-biowarfare technologies and drugs. The companies will work together to understand the basic properties of molecules needed to bind nucleic acids and will use the information in their respective drug discovery programs. Isis will provide chemical libraries of small molecules for Genelabs to test in its DNA-binding assays. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 12, 1998, and March 4, 1998.)
* Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc., of San Diego, won an extension of its option to acquire selected rights to a specialty pharmaceutical product from Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis. Ligand plans to use the additional time to complete its evaluation and assess development, manufacturing and sourcing issues for the U.S. and some European markets. If Ligand does not exercise the option, it could sell $20 million worth of equity to Lilly at a 20 percent premium to the market price and qualify for additional royalties on a Ligand-selected drug covered by the companies' collaboration agreement.
* Myriad Genetics Inc., of Salt Lake City, and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., of East Hanover, N.J., discovered a gene "that may play an important role" in cardiovascular disease. Dubbed Coronary Heart Disease 1, or CHD1, the gene was found in a small chromosomal region that was identified by using a number of large Utah families with a strong history of coronary heart disease. The discovery triggers a milestone payment from Novartis to Myriad. The companies have filed patent applications for the gene and its proteins, as well as its use in diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
* Pharmacyclics Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., completed patient enrollment in the Phase II portion of a Phase Ib/II clinical trial of the radiation sensitizer gadolinium texaphyrin for the treatment of brain metastases. Twenty-one patients enrolled in the Phase II portion, which is designed to evaluate safety and tumor response in patients receiving maximally tolerated doses.