By Lisa Piercey
The three-day 11th Annual Hambrecht & Quist Life Sciences Conference kicked off inSan Francisco on Monday with more than 1,800 investors in attendance and standing roomonly crowds at many company presentations.
David MacCallum, the firm's managing director of investment banking, said it was the“best-attended conference we've had.“
The investment firm's lead biotechnology analyst, D. Larry Smith, said attendanceshowed that investor interest in the industry remains high. “We're taking part in abiological renaissance,“ he said. But the shadow of 1992 -- a tough year for mostbiotechnology companies stock-wise -- hung over some of the proceedings. As David Holveck,Centocor Inc.'s president, began his company's presentation, “We're officiallyputting 1992 behind us.“
A number of companies made announcements.
Glycomed Reacquires Astenose
Glycomed Inc. (NASDAQ:GLYC) of Alameda, Calif., announced it has reacquiredexclusive worldwide marketing rights to Astenose, its modified heparin molecule for thetreatment of vascular restenosis and other indications, from its R&D partner, EliLilly and Co. The announcement marked the end of Glycomed's two-year research agreementwith Lilly and gives Glycomed the sole rights to Astenose and other heparin derivativesstudied during the collaboration.
Alan R. Timms, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Glycomed, said thecompany plans to file and investigational new drug (IND) application for Astenose by theend of the year. Restenosis is the chronic re-closing of arteries following angioplastyand open-heart surgery.
“When we started this collaboration in 1990, both companies thought Astenose mightbe an orally delivered drug,“ said Brian Atwood, Glycomed's senior vice president ofoperations. “But it looks like it's going to be an injectable for now. For Lilly, anoral drug is much preferable.“
Atwood said that Lilly also found toxicities at high doses of Astenose (doses five to10 times the efficacious dose) in animal studies to be “troublesome.“Specifically, histopathological exams of rabbits in test studies revealed unexplainedchanges in renal cells.
Chiron IntraOptics Pact for Implant System
Chiron IntraOptics Inc. said Monday that it has signed agreements to develop andmarket a drug implant system for intraocular delivery of therapeutic products, and anexcimer laser for refractive surgery.
Chiron IntraOptics, a business unit of Chiron Corp. (HASDAQ:CHIR) of Emeryville,Calif., sad it licensed exclusive worldwide rights for ophthalmic applications of drugdelivery technology from Control Delivery Systems Inc. (CDS). Chiron IntraOptics has alsopurchased 30 percent of the equity of CDS.
Chiron IntraOptics said it will sponsor clinical trials currently under way studyingthe delivery system's effectiveness in delivering anti-virals into the eye for treatingretinitis caused by cytomegalovirus, a late-stage infection that leads to blindness inAIDS patients.
William J. Link, chairman and chief executive officer of Chiron IntraOptics, told theaudience at H&Q that a Phase III multicenter trial for CDS's non-erodable implant,which is implanted into the vitreous of the eye to deliver a sustained dose of anti-viralsfor four to eight months, will begin in the next 60 days. He said the potential market forthe implant product could be $150 million to $200 million.
“It's an easy surgical procedure to put the implant in place,“ said Link.“It would be done by vitreoretinal surgeons. In 28 of 30 patients (in an initialtrial), the implant achieved complete arrest of CMV-retinitis.“
Chiron IntraOptics also said it has purchased U.S. ophthalmic marketing rights forexcimer lasers for refractive surgery produced by Technolas GmbH of Munich, Germany, andsaid it plans to acquire exclusive worldwide ophthalmic distribution rights for theseproducts.
Calgene CEO Refutes Article
Calgene Inc.'s chief executive officer, Roger Salquist, used part of his timebefore investors Monday to criticize an article that appeared in Sunday's San FranciscoExaminer. The article stated that Campbell Soup Co. wrote a letter to a consumeractivist group, Jeremy Rifkin's Pure Food Campaign, stating it had no plans to sell theFlavr Savr tomato, either alone or as an ingredient. The story implied that thedevelopment was a setback for Calgene.
Salquist called the report “grossly irresponsible.“ He said that therelationship between Calgene and Campbell has not changed in any way. “Calgenelicensed back the Flavr Savr gene for the fresh market over a year ago. It's not news thatCampbell has no plans to sell fresh tomatoes,“ he said. “The development of atomato for the processed food market calls for a tomato with an entirely different set ofattributes than the fresh market.“
Salquist said the company is working on developing tomatoes for the processed market,which have “more texture and more solids.“ He said Campbell has invested roughly$8 million over the past eight years to develop the processed tomatoes.
Plant Genetics Gets Patent
Walter DeLogi, managing director and chief executive officer of Plant GeneticSystems, N.V. (PGS) of Ghent, Belgium, announced that the U.S. Patent and TrademarkOffice has granted the company the first U.S. patent to issue covering insect tolerantplants. According to DeLogi, the patent covers genetically engineered plants that containprotein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which are lethal toagricultural pests of the Lepidoptera order (caterpillars).
Insects that feed on the Bt-engineered plants are killed within a few days resulting inminimal damage to the plant. The allowed claims cover insect tolerant plants and theirseeds containing Bt proteins. “Our product development strategy is to engineer insecttolerance as a value-added trait into crops such as corn and certain vegetables,“said DeLogi.
Magainin Begins Trials
Magainin Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., announced at the meetingthat it has begun Phase II clinical trials of MSI-78, a topical anti-bacterial andanti-fungal drug for the treatment of infections associated with surgical wounds, diabeticulcers, decubitus ulcers and for the topical treatment of impetigo and infectionsassociated with burns. According to the company, more than 5 million patients are treatedannually for the indications.
Transkaryotic Therapies Inc. (TKT) announced Monday that is has received exclusivecommercial right to carboxylase technology for gene therapy applications. The licenseprovides TKT with worldwide rights to the gamma carboxylase gene for the development ofhemophilia B therapeutics based on TKT's gene therapy technology. The carboxylasetechnology was discovered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Financialterms of the deal were not disclosed.