WASHINGTON _ Excorp Medical Inc., and the University ofPittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), renowned for its transplantsurgical teams, have signed an agreement to test a biotech liver assistsystem.

Excorp, a privately-held, Minneapolis-based tissue engineeringcompany that was incorporated only last November, will provideUPMC researchers with more than $1 million over a three-yearperiod to conduct studies, including a Phase I clinical study that willtest the device in up to 20 patients.

Unlike other transgenic technology, the Excorp device does notinvolve implantation of xenografts but rather uses extracorporealapplication of porcine cells to provide temporary support to patientswith acute liver failure.

Princeton, N.J.-based Nextran Corp. is working with Duke Universityresearchers to study the implantation of a transgenic pig liver,genetically altered to reduce the chances of rejection, in patientssuffering from chronic hepatitis. (See BioWorld Today July 28,1995, p. 1.)

Excorp president Dan Miller said drawing an analogy with kidneydialysis is a "somewhat misleading" comparison to understand howthe liver assist device works. "It behaves like a dialysis machine inthat we take blood from a vein, process it and return it to the patient.

"But the device differs in that it has a bio-reactor on board that usesporcine hepatocytes which metabolize the toxins in the blood to non-toxic substances that can be handled by the patient's blood." Theporcine cells are separated from the patient's blood by polymermembranes.

Miller anticipates that the assist device would be used one to fivetimes over a period of several days so that the patient's liver wouldhave time to regenerate.

Miller said he expected that the technology would prove applicable tomost types of liver failure, the most common of which is caused byalcohol abuse. Patients with chronic hepatitis, hepatic intoxication,such as the family members in California who last week ingestedpoisonous mushrooms, would be candidates for the treatments.

The potential market for the bridging system includes the 38,000patients each year who die in the U.S. from acute liver failure.

Miller praised the collaboration with Pittsburgh researchers who hesaid negotiated the deal "in only three weeks." Miller said theagreement was facilitated by the newly established Pittsburgh TissueEngineering Initiative described as a new organization "that promotesregional economic development through the advancement of andcommercialization of new biomedical technologies" developed at theUniversity of Pittsburgh.

Initially, the Pittsburgh researchers will be gathering engineering andpre-clinical information about the device. Excorp plans to begintreating the first patient in January 1997. n

-- Michele L. Robinson Washington Editor

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