BOSTON As expected, health care reform permeated theproceedings at the 1994 annual meeting of the MassachusettsBiotechnology Council here Thursday. The general call frommost participants was to beseech local lawmakers and opinionmakers to drop innovative drug pricing from the various billsmaking their way to Congress. To fuel their arguments, themeeting's plenary speaker, Patrick Leonard, president andchief executive officer of Cambridge Biotech Corp., offered aconcrete object lesson in two parts.To illustrate his point that it's not the up-front price of a drugbut the total cost of therapy that should guide the health carereformers, Leonard cited the case of a potent antibiotic,vancomycin. For Staphylococcus and other serious infections,he said, the current treatment of choice is injectablevancomycin at $12 a day for 10 days. But because theantibiotic is administered intravenously, an out-patient mustgo to a medical facility, where the administrative cost runs atleast $100 per day.Multiplying this $112 by 15 million treatment-days a yearmakes the annual cost $1.68 billion, Leonard said. "A self-administered product," he suggested, "delivered by nasalspray or eye-drops, even if it cost five times the price ofvancomycin, would save the economy $600,000 a year."Cambridge Biotech is working on such a self-administeredvancomycin.Meanwhile, closer to clinical use, Leonard added, is itsrecombinant Growth Hormone Releasing Factor (rGHRF),which reportedly can reduce by half the risk of spontaneousfractures due to osteoporosis.Next month, the company's Lincoln-based partner,BioNebraska, will begin a Phase I trial of rGHRF atCreighton University in Omaha. The product study,Cambridge Biotech's vice president of medical affairs, RobertKammer, told BioWorld, will enroll 30 patients, mostly post-menopausal women, with documented osteoporosis. This 10-month pilot study, Kammer said, "will test whether rGHRFcan alter bone density." At this initial stage, he explained, "theproduct will be injected, but in subsequent trials it should beself-administered intranasally."Cambridge Biotech and BioNebraska have formed a jointventure, the GRF Company, to scale up rGHRF, by aBioNebraska-patented process which yields a relativelyinexpensive product. "Cambridge Biotech invested substantialfunds," Kammer said, "to finance the impending pilot study."032194Council

-- David Leff Science Editor

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