SyStemix Inc. announced Wednesday that it has formed a jointventure with Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corp. to develophematopoietic cell-based somatic gene therapies for HIVinfection. Both companies will license their relevanttechnologies to the joint venture. Terms of the agreement werenot disclosed.

"The merging of Sandoz' expertise in gene transfer withSyStemix's knowledge of stem cell biology and HIVpathogenesis in vivo creates a uniquely synergistic combinationof technologies," said Linda Sonntag, president and chiefexecutive officer of the Palo Alto, Calif. firm (NASDAQ:STMX).

The idea is to render the progeny of hematopoietic stem cellsresistant to HIV by inserting into the stem cells HIV-resistancegenes. Those progeny cells could serve to reconstitute the bloodand immune system and confer long-term protection againstthe virus. SyStemix already has an animal model for theputative gene therapy: a SCID-hu mouse that can be infectedwith HIV. The idea is to insert anti-HIV genes intohematopoietic stem cells and then reconstitute those stem cellsin the mouse.

But for human trials, it's "premature" to postulate about wherein the disease process it would be best to intervene, Sonntagtold BioWorld. For instance, there's not yet a database on thenumber of stem cells present in individuals at various stages ofHIV infection. "We'll be looking early on at quantitativemeasures of bone marrow activity in patients with HIVinfection from the time they seroconvert until they have a full-blown infection," Sonntag explained.

This is the second collaboration between the two companies.The first, dated June 1992, covers the identification andisolation of a gene that encodes a stem cell growth factor.

Sandoz Ltd., the Swiss parent to Sandoz Pharmaceuticals of EastHanover, N.J. is SyStemix's largest shareholder. It purchased a60 percent stake in the Calif. firm for $392 million in December1991.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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

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