ZymeTx, a newly-formed company based in Oklahoma City hasdeveloped an enzyme-based viral diagnostic for influenza that it plansto begin testing in the second or third quarter of this year. Thecompany hopes to market the diagnostic as a $10 test that can beperformed rapidly in a physician's office.The groups most vulnerable to severe, or even fatal complications ofinfluenza are the elderly and children. However, according to PeterLivingston, ZymeTx's president, as many as half of all flu diagnosesmade by physicians are faulty. Many upper respiratory disorders aremisdiagnosed as influenza. As a result of these errors, medications areoften over-prescribed or underprescribed.ZymeTx's technology, called Virazyme, relies on a proprietary seriesand sequence of laboratory assays to come up with a highly selectivemolecule for an enzyme target. X-ray crystallography is used to obtaina three-dimensional image of the enzyme and refine the design of themolecule.Livingston said the company has overcome the difficulty of designinga diagnostic for the influenza virus, which undergoes many mutations,by targeting an enzyme, neuraminidase, that is present in all strains ofthe influenza virus, whether A or B.The molecules developed for this enzyme are small carbohydratemolecules that are recognized by the target enzyme and are notrecognized by neuraminidase enzymes of other origin. The structure ofthese novel molecules permits activity with the target, but prohibitsactivity at the sites of other, similar enzymes.The diagnostic test ZymeTx envisions would allow the physician totake a throat swab, insert it into the company's reagent, and then use aspecial device that would generate a color reaction to the sample,indicating whether the target enzyme _ influenza _ was present ornot.Livingston said the Virazyme marker technology is also applicable toother viruses. The company hopes to develop it for therapeuticpurposes as well.ZymeTx was founded in April with seed capital arranged through theOklahoma Health Center, which includes the Oklahoma MedicalResearch Foundation, an independent nonprofit medical researchinstitution where ZymeTx's facilities are housed.

-- Philippa Maister

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