LONDON _ The technology behind the anti-cancer therapy _batimastat _ developed by British Bio-technology Group (BBG)shows promise in the treatment of other conditions. One possibility isfor multiple sclerosis and other neuro-inflammatory diseases. BBG'sCEO, Keith McCullagh, describes this as "a major discovery."Batimastat is a specific inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases, enzymessecreted by cancer cells that destroy connective material between cellsand allow cancer to grow and metastasize. "Our core technology base_ MMP inhibitors _ continue to produce positive results for thecompany," McCullagh said. "Research in this field continues to be evermore exciting and we are now targeting multiple sclerosis as anotherdisease likely to respond to these drugs.""British Bio-technology has now synthesized and patented a series ofdual action inhibitors which suppress inflammation induced by tumornecrosis factor [TNF] and simultaneously prevent tissue damage byMMPs." BBG said that its new TNF inhibitors are orally active,chemical drugs "and hence have a potential advantage over geneticallyengineered TNF inhibitors."The possibility of treating multiple sclerosis comes from theassociation of TNF release and destruction of myelin, which surroundsand insulates nerves. "Encouraging preclinical tests have shown thatthe new compounds do indeed reduce neuro-inflammation anddemyelination, the basis of neurological damage in multiple sclerosis,"the company said.BBG has also announced that it has selected a new compound forevaluation as an oral cancer drug. Like batimastat, the new compound,BB-2516, is also a MMP inhibitor. BBG expects to begin clinical trialswith BB-2516 on healthy volunteers before the end of 1994.Peter Lewis, research and development director at BBG, told BioWorldToday that BBG decided to set up a separate company so that it couldmaintain its focus on anti-cancer drugs. BBG, of Oxford, England, hasset up a new wholly owned subsidiary, Neures Ltd., to conductresearch into neuro-inflammatory diseases. At the moment, said Lewis"We are funding Neures ourselves." He points out that, thanks to itsrights issue earlier this year, BBG is currently a cash rich company,with 75 million in the bank. However, Lewis does not rule outintroducing outside funding at a later stage. "When we get into theclinic we will be looking to finance it separately," he added.BBG has yet to decide on the strategy it will take. Lewis said that thecompany may consider collaboration or external funding.The company has also announced that it has made further progress withbatimastat. The first trial has now treated 24 patients. In a preparedstatement, BBG said that the preliminary results "reveal that someovarian cancer patients treated with batimastat showed an increase inthe levels of CA125 in their plasma following treatment." CA125 is acancer specific antigen that is a marker of the disease's progression."These results reinforce the impression of an anti-tumor effect firstsignaled by the lack of reaccumulation of malignant ascites in thesepatients."Neures' CEO is John Gordon, who has relinquished his post asresearch director of BBG, but remains on the company's board. Inaddition, some 25 scientists, about 10 percent of the research staff atBBG, have transferred to Neures from BBG. The new companyexpects to start clinical testing of its first product in 1995. n

-- Michael Kenward Special To BioWorld Today

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