La Jolla Pharmaceuticals Co. launched Phase II trials of its lead drugfor treatment of lupus, a potentially deadly disease that affects morethan 1 million people in the U.S., most of them women.

"This a major milestone for us," said Joseph Stemler, chairman andCEO of the San Diego-based company. "It took us years to get here.We had good Phase I results and we're keeping our fingers crossed."

La Jolla's compound, LJP 394, was developed with the company'sTolerance Technology, which is designed to make molecules thatbind to the surface of B cells and shut off their production of disease-causing antibodies. LJP 394 targets antibodies to double-strandedDNA, which are believed to cause kidney disease, the main killer oflupus patients.

The Phase II trials will involve 60 patients in various stages of lupusat eight medical centers in the U.S. Endpoints include establishing adose range and frequency, showing additional safety data andassessing the drug's ability to prevent production of the doublestranded DNA antibodies.

Stemler said the company expects to have results from the Phase IItrials by the end of this year and hopes to begin Phase III studies in1996.

The most common form of treatments currently available for lupuspatients include steroids and cytotoxic drugs, which attack the entireimmune system and cause serious side effects.

Stemler said La Jolla's Tolerance Technology enables LJP 394 totarget only the antibodies to double-stranded DNA.

Patients enrolled in the trials will continue to receive their currenttreatments as they receive La Jolla's compound. If LJP 394 issuccessful, Stemler said, the use of those therapies, such as steroids,will be reduced.

Anjie Rosga, health educator with the Lupus Foundation of Americain Rockville, Md., said between 1.4 million and 2 million people inthe U.S. have lupus and 90 percent are women.

Lupus is considered an autoimmune disease that results in a variety ofabnormalities. In addition to kidney failure, patients can suffer skinproblems, central nervous system disorders and arthritis.

La Jolla Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:LJPC) closed Tuesday at $3.37,down 6 cents. n

-- Charles Craig

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