Martek Biosciences Corp. is sponsoring three pilot studies ofDHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for use as a cholesterol-loweringagent, the company's chairman and chief executive officer,Henry Linsert, announced at the Hambrecht & Quist AnnualLife Sciences Conference in San Francisco this week.

DHA is one of the two fatty acids that comprise the company'sinfant formula supplement, Formulaid.

Two of the studies are being conducted in the U.S. and one at auniversity in Finland. One of the U.S. studies, which will bedone at the Chicago Center for Clinical Research (part of RushPresbyterian Hospital), began enrolling patients last month. TheFinnish study began in October and will be completed in thenext couple of months.

Linsert described Martek (NASDAQ:MATK) of Columbia, Md.,and the company's research activities at the H&Q conferenceand noted that Formulaid, Martek's first product, is to belaunched this year.

The supplement consists of two fatty acids, DHA andarachadonic acid (ARA), which Linsert said makes the infantformula match human milk. Martek has royalty-bearinglicensing agreements with three infant formula manufacturers-- Mead Johnson & Co., American Home Products and NutriciaB.V. -- for inclusion of Formulaid in their products.

Linsert said Martek will pursue follow-on indications for use ofthe supplement in pregnant and nursing women, baby andmedical foods, and adult food supplements. He said thecompany is in discussions with one baby food manufacturer.

Linsert also noted the potential use of DHA for treatment ofneurological diseases. He said the compound is found in thegray matter of the brain and in the retina of the eye, and itspresence is measurable in visual acuity and cognitiveperformance. Martek is supplying DHA to universityresearchers, who plan to conduct clinical trials of the compoundfor treating schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease this year.

The company was founded in 1985 by scientists from MartinMarietta Corp. who were conducting algal research in thecompany's space-related programs. Martek is the first companyto focus on developing and commercializing products derivedfrom microalgae. David Kyle, one of its founders and vicepresident of nutritional products, said microalgae is the largestrepository of DHA.

Linsert said that the "marine rain forest dwarfs its land-basedcounterpart," and that microalgae make up the vast biomass ofthe world and have been untapped for their potential use astherapeutics. He added that Martek has the world's largestcollection of microalgae.

Two companies have screening agreements with Martek. SteveDubin, Martek's chief financial officer, told BioWorld that thecompany has provided Upjohn Co. and Sphinx PharmaceuticalsCorp. with algae extracts for testing in their assays. He saidUpjohn has found some parasitic activity in some of theextracts and Sphinx has found protein kinase C inhibitionactivity in vitro with extracts it has tested. In in-housescreening Martek has found extracts from many algae to showbactericidal activity.

Martek is also developing a breath test diagnostic forgastrointestinal tract disorders that utilizes carbon 13. Itanalyzes breath expired after ingestion of one of Martek'smicroalgal-derived compounds.

Dubin said the company is working with a researcher at theUniversity of Florida who recently completed a fatmalabsorption study with the diagnostic.

-- Brenda Sandburg News Editor

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