Phytera Inc., whose drug discovery programs focus on plant-derivedcompounds, moved to expand its source of potential therapeuticbiochemicals with the acquisition of Neptune Pharmaceuticals Inc.,which explores marine microbes for new treatments.

The takeover was accomplished with a swap of stock, but Phytera'spresident and CEO, Malcolm Morville did not release details. Bothcompanies are privately held and are located in Worcester, Mass.

Neptune's main asset, Morville said, is technology that enablesresearchers to culture from a single sample of hard-to-grow marinemicrobes a much higher percentage of the organisms.

Typically, Morville said, researchers can culture about 0.5 percent ofthe microorganisms in a sample. With Neptune's science, he added,Phytera can culture 40 percent to 70 percent.

Neptune's technology was developed by William Fenical, a professorat Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. Thecompany, formed about 18 months ago, will cease to exist and noneof its four employees will join Phytera.

Both Phytera and Neptune were started with venture capital fundingfrom Commonwealth Bioventures Inc., of Portland, Maine.Alexander Klibanov, professor of chemistry at MassachusettsInstitute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., was a foundingscientist of both companies.

Morville said with the acquisition of Neptune, Phytera has threeseries of compounds from which lead candidates will be chosen toenter clinical trials. Two series are derived from marine microbes andare targeted as anti-inflammatory compounds. The plant-derivedseries of compounds are expected to yield anti-fungal and anti-viraldrug candidates. Morville expects a lead compound from the plant-derived group will be ready to enter the clinic next year.

Phytera was founded in 1992 and changed its name from PlantPharmaceuticals Inc. It has subsidiaries in Sheffield, U.K., andCopenhagen, Denmark.

The company increases the diverse range of chemical compoundsproduced by plants' genetic material through manipulation of theircells in tissue culture. By altering the plant cells genetically orintroducing an external stimulus into the tissue culture, Phyteraattempts to activate "silent" parts of the plant's genome to expressnew biochemicals.

The acquisition of Neptune, Morville said, will enable Phytera toexpand its library of compounds to biochemicals produced byunusual marine microbes, many of which exist in extreme oceanenvironments and remain largely unexplored. In addition to itstechnology, Neptune had gained access to various microorganismcollections through associations with universities and institutions. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.