Cel-Sci Corp. bought out Alpha 1 Biomedicals Inc.'s 50percent interest in their joint venture, and said it intendsto accelerate development of the HIV vaccine thecompanies have been developing since 1986.

Cel-Sci, of Alexandria, Va., said Wednesday it issued159,170 shares of stock, valued at about $875,000, toAlpha 1, and now owns all of the joint venture calledViral Technologies Inc. The venture's lead developmentprogram, a peptide-based HIV vaccine/treatment calledHGP-30, is in Phase I studies in healthy volunteers.

Alpha 1, of Bethesda, Md., signed a letter of intent lastweek to merge with MicroBio Inc., a new companystarted by The Castle Group Ltd., of New York. Alpha 1officials have said they will discontinue funding ViralTechnologies at the end of this month.

Cel-Sci President Geert Kersten said the program "foryears hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. I've alwayswanted to move the project [forward]."

He said Alpha 1 ran the joint venture, which hurtdevelopment because Alpha 1 was focused on otherprojects. Then after Alpha 1's lead drug candidate failedin a late-stage trial, Alpha 1 lacked the finances toaccelerate the program, Kersten said.

"The approach now," he said, "is to get into multipleclinical studies around the world. We will have a fairlystrong development program to work on a second-generation vaccine. Later we intend to collaborate withpharmaceutical companies."

Kersten said the joint venture had good data three yearsago from studies in sero-negative people in the U.K. andCalifornia. Since then, he said, the perception is thatnothing has been done.

Kersten said the first studies in sero-positive patients willbegin by the end of the year. While not specifying thetrial's design or location, he said essentially it will be aPhase I/II safety study with some look at surrogatemarkers.

The vaccine is a synthetic peptide version of HIV-1's p17core protein. Phase I results, presented at a conference inthe summer of 1993, indicated HGP-30 was safe andwell-tolerated, and elicited T-cell proliferation and CD8killer T-cell responses in some volunteers.

Kersten said Cel-Sci and Alpha 1 each contributed $2million to the project to date. The buyout of Alpha 1'sstake contains provisions that Alpha 1 can sell only10,000 Cel-Sci shares per week. It also allows Cel-Sci tobuy back the shares at a premium.

Whether Viral Technologies remains an entity is yet to bedetermined, he said. Cel-Sci stock (NASDAQ:CELI)closed up 38 cents Wednesday at $5.50. n

-- Jim Shrine

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