SYDNEY, Australia _ While most biotech andpharmaceutical companies are racing to develop a vaccinethat staves off the varying strains of influenza, BiotaHoldings Ltd. is testing a treatment.

Partner Glaxo Holdings plc., of London, said the fluseason must be sufficiently severe for the pharmaceuticalgiant to complete a Phase II trial of the drug.

Owned by Sydney-based Biota, and known in its testform as GG167, the drug was scheduled for Phase II trialslast winter.

Earlier trials run by Glaxo, which is commercializingGG167, showed clear trends in favor of the drug overplacebo but did not find a statistically sufficient numberof patients suffering from the flu for a comprehensiveresult.

Glaxo has licensed the rights from Biota in return formilestone payments totaling $7.5 million and 7 percent ofsales.

Should GG167 make it to market it would be the firstanti-flu therapeutic.

The initial work for GG167 was done by a team ofAustralian scientists led by X-ray crystallographer PeterColeman, now with the Commonwealth Scientific andIndustrial Research Organization, a government researchbody based in Melbourne, Victoria.

In the mid-1980s, Coleman and his team identified anactive site for a protein that sits on the surface of theprotein shell of the flu virus. The team also found that theactive site does not vary between strains of the flu.

Another team, headed by Mark von Itzstein, of theVictorian College of Pharmacy in Melbourne, thencomputer-designed and tested about 30 compounds tofind one that attacked that active site.

The protein is a key element in the reproduction of the fluvirus. GG167 stops the spread of the virus, giving thebody's immune system a chance to destroy it, as well asstopping the virus from spreading outside the body.

After Biota obtained rights to the drug, it turned to Glaxofor the financial muscle for development.

Biota Managing Director Hugh Niall, formerly vicepresident of research at South San Francisco-basedGenentech Inc. before returning to his native Australialast May, said his company was encouraged by the factthat Glaxo recently scrapped 70 of its portfolio of 160development projects, but had retained development ofGG167.

Despite Glaxo's continuing support, testing has not beeneasy sailing. An independent group at the AustralianNational University, in Canberra, reported in June thatthey had succeeded in growing some flu viruses in aculture with the new drug _indicating the viruses haddeveloped immunity.

Niall said similar experiments in the U.S. had shown thatany viruses that developed resistance had also lost theirpotency.

Besides GG167, Biota is developing a flu diagnostic kit,which would produce results within a few minutes fromsamples taken through a throat swab. The diagnostic istwo or three years away from launch, Niall said. n

-- Mark Lawson Special To BioWorld Today

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