Myco Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced today that it and severalacademic collaborators have been awarded a $750,000 grantfor antifungal drug research by the National Institutes ofHealth (NIH). The company hopes that the grant, awardedunder the NIH National Cooperative Drug Discovery Group forthe treatment of AIDS, will lead to new approaches for treatingCandida infections.

The grant will be applied toward three projects. WilliamTimberlake, vice president of research at Myco, will lead ateam in determining how Candida cells change their shape andstructure during the course of infection. This metamorphosis ofthe cells is tied to their ability to act as pathogens, the companysaid. Myco director of molecular biology, Yigal Koltin, willdetermine mechanisms of fungal resistance in order tocharacterize a specific gene that is linked to drug resistance.

The final project will be conducted by Myco scientist ChristineBulawa and Phillips Robbins, professor of biochemistry at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology. They will attempt todiscover unique components of the fungal cell wall that mayserve as drug targets. All three projects will be overseen byJeffrey Becker, professor of microbiology at the University ofTennessee.

Myco president and chief executive officer Barry Berkowitztold BioWorld that the NIH grant would complement drugdiscovery efforts already underway by the Cambridge, Mass.,company. Drug development in the company's threetherapeutic areas is based on the genetic engineering of fungi,an approach Berkowitz said is "used as a very broad platformto solve problems and do drug discovery." The company iscurrently conducting in vitro and animal testing of antifungaldrug candidates, and hopes to identify a lead compound inpreclinical testing this year.

Myco, founded in 1992, uses fungi in both drug discovery anddevelopment. Through its Differential Output Test (DOT)technology, Myco can engineer yeast, Aspergillus and Candidacells to contain desired drug targets, and to visually reportwhen a drug candidate reaches its target. The technology, thecompany said, increases speed and efficiency of drug discoveryby allowing the company to advance only the most promisingcompounds to purification and analysis.

The company is also developing drug candidates from its largelibraries of fungi. It has collected 20,000 fungal cultures,selected for their pharmaceutical potential, and expects to have40,000 accessions in 1995. In addition to investigating thepotential therapeutic properties of these fungi, the company isalso engineering the fungi cultures to obtain unique compoundsnot found in nature.

By focusing on Candida infection, Berkowitz noted, the NIHgrant is directed toward "one of the major emerging areas ininfection," particularly in AIDS patients. In addition to thedevelopment of antifungals, Myco is researching treatments forcancer and immunosuppression. The company hopes to test itsfirst candidates in humans in 1995, Berkowitz said.

-- Karl A. Thiel Associate Editor

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