Sparta Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Friday it signed a letter of intent toacquire Lexin Pharmaceutical Corp. for shares of Sparta stock. Termsweren't disclosed.

Lexin, of Horsham, Pa., was founded in 1989 as the ProteaseInhibitor Research Corp. at the University of Pennsylvania atPhiladelphia. It changed its name to Alexin Pharmaceutical Corp. in1993 and then to Lexin in 1994 to differentiate it from companieswith similar names.

Lexin's lead compound, LEX032 _ a recombinant version of ahuman anti-chymotrypsin protein _ has demonstrated activity inpreclinical models of inflammation and cardiovascular disease. InOctober, Astra Merck Inc. purchased an option to develop andmarket LEX032 for acute pancreatitis.

Astra Merck, a joint venture between Sweden-based Astra AB andMerck & Co., of New York, will study the compound in animalmodels before deciding whether to enter a full collaboration.

Privately held Lexin is developing serine protease inhibitors based onderivations of alpha-1 anti-chymotrypsin, which is modified forselective therapeutic activity. A preclinical study of LEX032 in acutepulmonary inflammation showed the compound reduced neutrophilinfiltration into the lung.

Lexin also is developing protease inhibitors to treat coagulationdisorders. Another modification of the anti-chymotrypsin protein isaimed at inhibiting chymase, which is involved in asthma andallergies. Separately, Lexin has a research and licensing deal withWichita State University in Kansas that gives it exclusive rights tocertain small molecule compounds synthesized there.

Sparta, of Research Triangle Park, N.C., was incorporated in 1990. Itfocuses on acquiring rights to and developing drugs for cancer andother conditions. It has three products in early trials.

Sparta currently has six million shares outstanding. Its stock(NASDAQ:SPTAC) gained 13 cents Friday to close at $2.25.Officials would not disclose what stake Lexin might get in Sparta.

William Sullivan, president, chairman and CEO of Sparta, said theparties intend to move quickly on the acquisition, with a goal ofcompleting it this quarter.

"We think this will make us much more attractive as a partner and asa company moving forward," Sullivan said. "We spend a lot of timeattempting to get people interested in our company and in financingwhat we're trying to do. We think this will help."

Sullivan said the acquisition would add biotechnology compounds toits own small molecule-based portfolio, and increase the number ofproduct opportunities at the company. He said the combinedcompany would retain the Lexin management team, includingpresident and CEO Jerry Hook. n

-- Jim Shrine

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