Glaxo Wellcome plc wants a quick influenza diagnostic on themarket by the time its developmental flu drug is launched, so it struckdeals with two companies, hoping at least one has a test available intime.

The London-based pharmaceutical company signed an agreementwith Quidel Corp. that Quidel called a multi-million dollar, multi-year deal representing its largest independently funded program sinceits founding in 1979.

Biota Holdings Ltd., of Sydney, Australia, acquired rights from auniversity there and licensed the potential flu drug, GG167, to Glaxo.Biota has exclusive rights to develop a diagnostic incorporating theneuraminidase enzyme-inhibiting properties of the drug. Biotareceived $7.5 million when it licensed the drug to Glaxo and will get7 percent of GG167 sales.

Ramona Jones, manager of media relations for Glaxo-Wellcome Inc.,in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said, "We're looking at twodifferent companies taking two different approaches to a diagnosticfor flu. There's a reason to have confidence in both approaches."

Jones said Quidel, of San Diego, is an "established diagnosticcorporation that specializes in developing rapid diagnostic tests.Biota has the chemistry expertise in [neuraminidase]." She saidGlaxo would like at least one and preferably both of the tests to beready before the drug is approved. Current timelines show clinicaltrials should be completed by the end of 1997.

Glaxo wants a rapid diagnostic for the potential flu drug, whichwould be used for both A and B strains, to enhance its drug andbecause the drug is designed specifically to treat influenza viruses,not other conditions that may results in similar symptoms. So makingsure a patient has the flu is critical, Jones said. GG167 is beingdeveloped to not only stop the virus from replicating but to stop itfrom spreading outside the body.

While Biota's diagnostic target involves the neuraminidase enzyme,Quidel's target remains undisclosed.

"We clearly have a target within the virus itself," said Mark Francois,Quidel's director, investor relations. He said the abundantly availabletarget, well established in medical literature, involves part of the viralmolecule that's more conserved and responds less to selectionpressures.

"Glaxo has funded Quidel millions of dollars over the next severalyears for a diagnostic test in line with our current Generation IIItechnology," Francois said, adding that initial funding allowed Quidelto create a dedicated influenza research program with its ownlaboratory and influenza experts.

"We're very comfortable with our technology and platform andbelieve it is applicable in diagnosing flu," Francois said. He saidQuidel also is comfortable with the time constraints imposed byGlaxo.

Jones said the current flu season should allow for completion ofPhase II studies of GG167, which are being run in the U.S., Canada,Europe and Australia. Glaxo hopes to start Phase III next season, shesaid. The company is looking at nasal spray or powder inhaleformulations for better targeting of neuraminidase. n

-- Jim Shrine

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