Sun Hill Glucose Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Sam Yang Group, of Seoul,South Korea, has agreed in principle to collaborate withPHYTOpharmaceuticals Inc. to develop the capacity to manufacturethe anti-cancer drug, taxol, in commercially-viable quantities.A final agreement is scheduled to be signed at the end of April.PHYTOpharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of ESCAgenetics Corp.(AMEX:ESN), was formed in July 1992 to concentrate on themanufacture of taxol and other plant-derived organic compounds usingplant cell fermentation technology. Since January 1993,PHYTOpharmaceuticals, of San Carlos, Calif., has been working withGenencor International Inc., of Rochester, N.Y., to scale up its taxolmanufacturing capability to the 2,500-liter bioreactor level. Under theagreement with Sun Hill, PHYTOpharmaceuticals would assist SunHill to scale up its fermentation plant in Inchon, Korea to the 4,500-liter bioreactor level by providing fermentation research and technicalsupport."Sun Hill's objective is to take its plant all the way to full commercialscale," Richard Moser, ESCAgenetics' president and chief executiveofficer, told BioWorld. "At the end of this collaboration, they will havethe option of licensing the technology for full-scale production, but thedetails have not yet been negotiated."Taxol has been hailed as a potential wonder-drug in the fight againstcancer. Only Bristol-Myers Squibb's drug, taxol, made by semi-synthetic methods has so far been approved for marketing as atreatment for ovarian and breast cancer. However, Rhone-PoulencRorer plans to file a new drug application for its drug Taxotere with theFDA this summer. In addition, Vestar Inc. announced in September,1993 that it plans to develop a generic version and a liposomalformulation of taxol in a joint venture with Towers Phytochemical Lts.,of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.PHYTOpharmaceutical's method uses fermentation processes thatstimulate cells taken from the Taxus genus of a yew tree's roots,leaves, and stems to produce large quantities of taxol. With Enzon Inc.,of Piscataway, N.J., the company has developed a molecule that ismore soluble by attaching Enzon's polyethylene glycol to the taxolmolecule."Our fermentation process induces the cells to proliferate and grow at afairly rapid rate," Moser said. "The end product is biomass: atremendous volume of plant material from which one can extract andpurify taxol. Even if you use a semi-synthetic product, you still need ataxol precursor to grow a cell line. And the precursor is biomass."He sees Sun Hill or any other company licensing his company'sbiomass technology as having several strategic options. "They could bepurveyors of the biomass, and sell it to companies interested inextracting the taxol. They could sell taxol as a bulk product. Or theycould develop taxol as a pharmaceutical product."According to Moser, his company has no interest in becoming a large-scale manufacturer of the chemical.However, he said it would continue to pursue developing taxol as atreatment for other forms of cancer, reducing the toxicity of theproduct, and broadening the scope of its use.042194TAXOL

-- Philippa Maister

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