Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. moved to improve itschances in the race to develop transgenic pig organs forhuman transplants with a $4 million equity investmentfrom U.S. Surgical Corp. plus undisclosed funding forresearch and development.

For its investment, U.S. Surgical purchased worldwiderights to market transgenic pig hearts, livers, lungs andkidneys along with the operating room instruments andsutures it now sells to medical facilities and physicians.

Marianne Scipione, U.S. Surgical's vice president ofcorporate communications, said the interest inxenotransplantation is part of an attempt to expand theNorwalk, Conn.-based company's product base.

With its $4 million upfront investment, U.S. Surgicalpurchased a 9.5 percent equity stake in Alexion, of NewHaven, Conn. Scipione said U.S. Surgical also has agreedto provide research and development financing based onmilestone achievements, but she did not reveal thecompany's potential funding commitment.

In addition to the equity investment and research support,Alexion will receive royalties on organ sales. Thecollaboration is the first major corporate partnership forthe privately held company.

In the race to raise transgenic pigs for a much-neededsupply of organs for human transplant, Alexion and DNXCorp., of Raritan, N.J., are among the main U.S.competitors. DNX established Nextran, a Princeton, N.J.,company, with Baxter Healthcare Corp., of Deerfield, Ill.,to conduct transgenic animal research.

Outside the U.S., another major player in the field isImutran Ltd., of Cambridge, England.

Alexion's chief operating officer, David Keiser, said hiscompany expects to test xenotransplanation of transgenicpig organs in primates within the next two years and inhumans by 1998.

Nextran, in conjunction with Duke University MedicalCenter in Durham, N.C., already has begun a Phase Iclinical trial in which transgenic pig livers will be used exvivo to keep alive 10 hepatitis patients with acute liverfailure. The company said it expects to conductxenotransplants of transgenic pig livers in humans withinthe next two years.

Keiser said Nextran's initiation last week of ex vivo trialsdoesn't necessarily represent a lead in the competition todevelop transgenic pig organs.

"The approach we are taking is different from Nextran onthe technological side and the product development side,"Keiser said.

A main challenge for xenotransplantation is preventinghuman rejection of animal organs. Alexion, Keiser said,alters pigs with human genes so their organs are protectedagainst antibody attack and complement system assaultfrom the transplant recipient.

Keiser called it a "double-barreled" approach withcomplement system inhibitors providing back-up for theantibody protection.

Nextran, on the other hand, has focused on geneticengineering of pigs for porcine organs with multiplehuman complement system regulators. For the problem ofantibody rejection, the company currently uses a strategytargeting removal of the combative antibodies from thehuman recipient prior to transplant.

Keiser did not disclose details of the proposed testsinvolving transplant of pig organs into primates. If thosepreclinical trials are successful, Alexion's next stepwould be xenotransplants involving humans. He said nodecision has been made on what organs to target in theclinical studies.

U.S. Surgical's two biggest selling products are surgicalstaplers and sutures. In 1994, the company reportedrevenues of $919 million and net income of $19.2 millionafter paying out preferred dividends. For the first sixmonths of this year, sales totaled more than $500 millionwith net income, following dividend payments, of $33.5million. n

-- Charles Craig

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