Xoma Corp. expects to begin by mid-year Phase III trials of its lead drug, Neuprex, for treatment of infections in trauma patients who undergo blood transfusions — the second indication targeted for the drug in late-stage clinical studies.

Neuprex, which is a recombinant bactericidal and permeability increasing protein (BPI21), already is being evaluated in Phase III trials for severe meningococcemia.

The naturally occurring human protein, which will be used in association with antibiotics, kills bacteria and neutralizes the endotoxins released by the bugs.

In treatment of hemorrhagic trauma patients, who suffer acute blood loss and must receive transfusions, Neuprex battles bacteria that enter the body because of the injury and bugs that already are present and spread as blood flow is restored.

Ellen Martin, spokeswoman for Berkeley, Calif.-based Xoma, said the likely start of Phase III trials by mid-1997 is based on a recently completed 400-patient Phase II trial, which demonstrated Neuprex's ability to reduce infections, organ dysfunction and death.

Details of the Phase II study, started in May 1995, will be released at a scientific meeting.

Xoma's stock (NASDAQ:XOMA) closed Thursday at $7.062, up $0.312. — Charles Craig