Phytera Inc., a start-up company seeking to develop plant-based pharmaceuticals, has signed an agreement withAmersham International plc to identify diagnostic enzymes.

The two companies will establish a joint research program toidentify novel enzymes from Phytera's plant cell culturelibrary. Malcolm Morville, president and chief executive officerof Phytera, said Amersham is attempting to improve uponenzymes it currently markets in kits for detection of DNA andproteins.

Amersham will provide an undisclosed amount in research anddevelopment support, as well as milestone payments androyalties on any future product sales.

Phytera, which recently changed its name from PlantPharmaceuticals Inc., was founded in May 1992 byCommonwealth BioVentures Inc.; Alexander Klibanov andRobert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology;and Michael Fowler of the University of Sheffield in the UnitedKingdom.

The company was launched with initial capitalization of $1.75million provided by Commonwealth BioVentures, Dillon, ReadVenture Capital Inc. and BancBoston Ventures Inc.

Morville told BioWorld that Phytera is putting plants in tissuecultures and then manipulating the cultures to encourage theplants to produce chemicals that they wouldn't normallyproduce. "We think we can get a broader chemical diversity"with this technology, he stated.

In comparison, Morville said, other plant-based pharmaceuticaland biotechnology companies are extracting material fromplants as they are found in nature.

Phytera of Worcester, Mass., is initially targeting anti-viralsand anti-fungals. Morville said the company will seek to formcorporate partnerships for development of such drugs for thenext 18 to 24 months.

-- Brenda Sandburg News Editor

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