When researchers from Shaman Pharmaceuticals Inc.questioned South Americans familiar with therapeuticuses of a plant called croton they showed the scientistsphotographs of sores treated with the botanical medicine.

Lisa Conte, president and CEO of South San Francisco-based Shaman, said her researchers knew the medicinalherb was used for wound healing. The lesions in thepictures, however, turned out to be herpes.

Using an extract of the croton plant, Shaman developed atopical anti-viral drug candidate called Virend andtargeted it as a treatment for genital herpes.

The company Wednesday released data from blinded,placebo-controlled Phase II trials of Virend showingherpes lesions were completely healed on 38 percent ofpatients treated with the drug. By comparison, lesionshealed in 14 percent of the patients in the placebo group.

The studies involved 45 AIDS patients with recurringgenital herpes. Twenty-four patients received topicaltreatments with Virend three times a day for 21 days. Theother 21 patients were given a placebo. In addition to theefficacy data, Shaman said the drug caused no clinicallysignificant adverse side effects.

As a result of the findings, Conte said Shaman expects tobegin Phase III trials next year.

Virend is Shaman's most advanced product and the PhaseII trial results represent the first successful efficacy dataachieved by the company. The active ingredient in Virendis the same chemical entity used in the company's oraldrug candidate, Provir, which is being tested as atreatment for secretory diarrhea.

The Virend data, Conte said, "is the most exciting newsShaman has had to date. It's been our policy to dorigorous Phase II studies that are double-blinded andplacebo-controlled so we can make the best decisionpossible about whether to go forward to Phase III."

Shaman's stock (NASDAQ:SHMN) closed Wednesday at$7, up 87 cents, a 14 percent jump.

The company, using what it describes as anethnobotanical approach to drug discovery, screenstropical plants from Africa, Southeast Asia and SouthAmerica for chemicals with therapeutic activity.

Conte said Shaman intends to retain commercializationrights for Virend while seeking a European partner for thedrug.

The main treatment for genital herpes is aciclovir, an oraldrug marketed by London-based Glaxo Wellcome plcwhose 1994 sales were more than $1.4 billion. n

-- Charles Craig

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