Progenics Pharmaceuticals, of Tarrytown, N.Y., has received a$500,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and InfectiousDiseases (NIAID) to complete development of ProSys, the company'sdiagnostic test for HIV. According to Joel Sendek, Progenics' directorof corporate development and investor relations, ProSys is getting closeto the marketing stage, and the company is in negotiations withpotential corporate partners.The Phase II grant was made under the Small Business InnovativeResearch program. It is the fifth Progenics has received since 1991.Phase I SBIR grants are for a maximum of $50,000 and Phase II for amaximum of $500,000.ProSys pinpoints the HIV virus at the point in its life cycle where itenters the target human cell. Entry depends on the virus's ability toattach and fuse itself to the cell and deliver its genetic information intoit. ProSys detects the viral entry by means of a rapid, automated, andhighly sensitive assay that does not use infectious HIV.As a diagnostic, ProSys detects HIV neutralizing antibodies in theblood of patients who are HIV positive. Since these surrogate markersare strongly associated with the clinical progression of the disease, thepresence of more or less of a particular antibody might indicate at whatstage in the clinical spectrum a patient is, Sendek said."There's no easy way to do this right now," Sendek noted. "ProSys willmake it easier to answer these types of question because the system iscompletely objective, and the use of the system is independent of theexpertise of the person using it."Sendek said ProSys is also being developed for a therapeuticapplication. He said it could be used to help companies determine thepotential efficacy of therapeutics being developed to combat HIV."Because ProSys gives a readout in the event that attachment andfusion take place, it can be used as a tool to test for the first steps of theviral life cycle. If attachment and fusion do occur, it's a sign that thecompound may not be effective. If they don't, it's an indication that thecompound may have potential," Sendek said. _ Philippa Maister
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