Gene therapy companies GenVec Inc. and Theragen Inc. said Tuesdaythey completed a merger that was announced in April.The privately held companies will be consolidated in Rockville, Md.,home of GenVec, under the GenVec name. Shareholders of Princeton,N.J.-based Theragen will get GenVec stock as part of the deal.Financial terms were not revealed.Theragen had developed proprietary delivery systems in the herpessimplex virus, adeno-associated virus and liposomes. GenVec hasexpertise in the in vivo delivery of genes using adenovirus.Thomas D'Alonzo, president and CEO of GenVec as well as thecombined company, told BioWorld that Theragen primarily wasinterested in metabolic and central nervous system disorders, whileGenVec has been concentrating in the cancer and cardiovascular areas.He said Theragen's herpes vector program is "the one that's sosignificant and important to the combined company."It has this wonderful characteristic of going latent in the neuronalcells," he said. "They've harnessed the promoter that will cause thehuman gene to be expressed while the virus is in a latent state."D'Alonzo said the hope is to file an investigational new drug (IND)application using the vector for a brain cancer indication by the end of1995.D'Alonzo said GenVec will seek to license out or collaborate withcompanies in some areas that Theragen was working on that don'toverlap with GenVec's focus. Examples include Theragen's work inliposomes, directed primarily at arthritis and inflammation, and itswork in the central nervous system. He said Theragen's program inGaucher's disease was using a vector system outside GenVec'sresearch area, and the technology will be turned back over to theUniversity of Pittsburgh.GenVec filed an IND in August for its cystic fibrosis (CF) productusing the adenovirus vector. D'Alonzo said the repeat-dosing protocolwill be considered this month by the Recombinant DNA AdvisoryCommittee to the National Institutes of Health. Genentech Inc., ofSouth San Francisco, has worldwide marketing rights to any GenVecgene therapy products for CF.An ongoing research collaboration Theragen had with Parke-Davis Co.,a division of Plains, N.J.-based Warner-Lambert Co., will continue, andGenVec is giving thought to broadening it, D'Alonzo said.Collaborations with academic facilities that will continue include theHarvard University School of Medicine, through Beth Israel Hospitaland the Dana Farber Cancer Institute; the University of Chicago,Cornell University and the University of Pittsburgh. D'Alonzo said thecollaborations will be the primary way the herpes simplex and adeno-associated viruses, and the liposome vector programs, will moveforward. Work on the adenovirus-delivered gene therapy mostly willbe done in-house.Martin Cleary, former president and CEO of Theragen, will be on theGenVec board of directors and remain with the company for a limitedtime as a consultant. D'Alonzo said one of the six Theragen employeeswill work for GenVec. n

-- Jim Shrine

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