SciClone Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s board approved the buyback of up toan additional 500,000 shares of the company's stock, bringing to 1.5million shares the San Diego plans to buy back on the open market.The San Diego company has rights to thymosin alpha 1 in most of theworld. Its stock fell significantly after the April 28 announcement byAlpha 1 Biomedicals Inc. (which licensed the drug to SciClone) thatthe drug was no better than placebo in one of three treatmentindicators: the disappearance of hepatitis B virus DNA."We remain confident, and committed to the drug and its potential,"Mark Culhane, SciClone's chief financial officer, told BioWorld. "Wefeel the stock continues to be undervalued. Repurchasing the shares atthis price represents a strong investment."SciClone (NASDAQ:SCLN) stock gained 38 cents Wednesday andanother 38 cents Thursday, when it closed at $6.38 per share. Thebuyback news was released shortly before the market closedWednesday. The company's stock fell from $12.75 to $5.19 the day ofAlpha 1's announcement.In August, SciClone acquired from Alpha 1 expanded rights to developand market alpha 1 thymosin, which it calls Zadaxin, to includeeverywhere except Korea, Italy, Spain and Portugal.It is being tested primarily for chronic hepatitis B. The company hasapproval already in Singapore, and is expecting near-term approvals inHong Kong, the People's Republic of China and Mexico. A Phase IIItrial in Taiwan is ongoing for chronic hepatitis B, as is a Phase III studyin Singapore for asymptomatic hepatitis B.Culhane said SciClone will be ready, from a supply perspective, tobegin marketing Zadaxin in Singapore by the end of the year. He saidthe news of Alpha 1's U.S. trial data was widely reported in Singapore,"and as a result there's a perception created by Alpha 1 that the drugdoesn't work. That perception has to be overcome" both in the marketand among the medical community."That's dependent," he said, "on having meaningful data out of ourTaiwan trial and analysis of Alpha 1's U.S. trial." An interim analysisof the Taiwan trial will be done in November, Culhane said, and nowthat SciClone has acquired U.S. rights, "we are currently going throughrigorous analysis of that trial to better understand the results."We have to reestablish the credibility of the drug," Culhane said.Thomas Moore, SciClone's chairman and CEO, said in a news releasethat "our resources continue to be strong. We have cash andinvestments of over $70 million, which allows us to expand ourproduct portfolio and further commercialize Zadaxin."Thymosin alpha 1 is a synthetic version of the naturally occurringpeptide hormone thymosin. It is believed to stimulate production ofcytotoxic T cells that recognize viral antigens or epitopes and destroythe cells that express them. n
-- Jim Shrine
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