Excitement about potentially treating rheumatoid arthritis witha natural antagonist to inflammation created some frictionThursday between a lead immune system investigator and onestock analyst.

Analyst Franklin Berger of the institutional research firmJosephthal Lyon & Ross Inc. drew attention Thursday to areport in the Jan. 16 edition of The Lancet in which physiciansat Tufts-New England Medical Center examined levels ofinterleukin-1 (IL-1) and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) in patients with arthritis caused by Lyme disease. Bergercalled one author of the report, Charles Dinarello, "basically thediety of interleuken-1" and Lyme arthritis an "excellent model"for rheumatoid arthritis, with a more easily determined onset.

Berger also pointed to the study's precise measurement oflevels of IL-1, IL-1ra and another key mediator ofinfammation, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which were detectedin fluid surrounding joints in the 83 patients studied.

Berger told BioWorld that The Lancet report might have someimpact on Synergen, the company that is developing IL-1ra asa potential therapeutic. The Boulder, Colo., biopharmaceuticalcompany (NASDAQ:SYNG) has completed Phase III trials of itsIL-1ra, Antril, in septic shock, and expects to release results inMarch or April prior to filing for a product license application(PLA).

"Synergen is going up a lot," Berger said. "It's a hot stock."

Synergen's stock gained $2.13 on Thursday, closing at$60.50.

Synergen spokeswoman Debra Bannister said Thursday therehas been pressure from investors eager to hear results of thesepsis study, completed in December.

However, IL-1 expert Dinarello told BioWorld that he had hadcalls from four analysts Thursday, and is "very angry that theresearch is being used to buy and sell stocks."

In a letter to Berger that Dinarello released to BioWorld, theresearcher wrote, "Please do not over-interpret the usefulnessof Antril."

Synergen's vice president of clinical research, Michael Catalano,a rheumatologist, said the company is completing its first PhaseII trial in February and will begin a second one in March inpatients with milder rheumatoid arthritis to determine efficacyat different stages of disease and dosing. Patients in thedouble-blind, placebo-control study are self-injectingthemselves subcutaneously once a day.

Biopharmaceutical consultant Vibeke Strand, a rheumatologistwho studied IL-1 as a potential therapeutic at Syntex Corp.(NYSE:SYN) of Palo Alto, Calif., told BioWorld that excitementabout antagonists to IL-1 or TNF, which shares many effects ofIL-1, is especially great because other monoclonal antibodiesaren't showing as much promise in resolving rheumatoidarthritis.

"The feeling in the clinic has been that IL-1ra does offerbenefit in rheumatoid arthritis, but the effect is fairly mild,"Strand said. "People are saying Antril is an expensive aspirinwithout the gastrointestinal side effects."

Synergen's closest competitor, Immunex Corp. (NASDAQ:IMNX)of Seattle, is working on a soluble receptor that binds IL-1.Besides sepsis and rheumatoid arthritis, Synergen is developingapplications in inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, psiarosis,occular inflammation, graft vs. host disease and chronicmyelogenous leukemia.

As for promise for a rheumatoid arthritis application,Synergen's Catalano said people should be skeptical until datais generated, because "the clinical proof will come from aclinical trial."012293IL-2

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

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