Genentech Inc. today announced the opening of its $85 millionresearch facility, the world's largest research center devotedsolely to biotechnology.

In addition, the South San Francisco, Calif., company reportedThursday at the Third Annual Healthcare Conference ofOppenheimer & Co. Inc. in New York that it has completedPhase III testing of DNase, its drug to treat cystic fibrosis.

Genentech's 275,000-square-foot building will allow more than400 scientists and their staffs to conduct therapeutic researchin immunobiology, cardiovascular disease, endocrinology,neurobiology, cancer, pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism.

Already operating at 50 percent capacity, the building shouldbe fully occupied by January, Genentech spokesman Jim Weisssaid.

Weiss told BioWorld that the new center is intended toconsolidate an aggressive research effort. "Fifty percent of ourrevenues are going back into R&D," Weiss said, "and we neededa place to make that happen. We have aggressive goals to getproducts to market by the end of the decade."

Genentech's Pulmozyme brand of DNase for cystic fibrosis isprobably the company's most promising drug candidate.

Although final data have not yet been analyzed, BarrySherman, Genentech's vice president for medical affairs, saidthat DNase provoked no allergic responses and that patientstreated with DNase experienced an increase in lung function.

Cystic fibrosis, a fatal disease that causes frequent and severelung infection, affects about 30,000 people in the U.S.

"Genentech's DNase and Synergen's Antril will likely be thenext blockbuster drugs on the market," said Stuart Weisbrod,an analyst with Merrill Lynch in New York. Called a "molecularscissors," DNase works by breaking down the thick mucous thatblocks the lung airways in cystic fibrosis patients.

Genentech hopes to file the test data with the FDA in early1993 and estimates U.S. marketing approval for cystic fibrosisbefore 1996, with a similar time frame in Europe, Weiss said.

Sherman also told the Oppenheimer conference thatGenentech's gp120 AIDS drug for HIV-positive patients isabout to begin Phase II trials and is in the latter stages ofPhase I trials as an AIDS vaccine.

Also, Genentech said it observed in Phase I/II studies of itsIGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) product for physical wastingin AIDS patients that the drug promoted nitrogen retention andweight gain.

Despite controversy surrounding its Activase t-PA (tissueplasminogen activator), Genentech has remained an industryfavorite.

"After t-PA, other parts of Genentech's research organizationwere freed up to develop more," said Amy Berler, an analystwith Alex. Brown & Sons in New York. "I think DNase is asuperb product and expect it to be approved as early as thefirst half of 1994, assuming Phase III results are as good asPhase II."

Weisbrod believes Genentech has an underrated productportfolio. "People still look at their numbers essentially as aresult of their t-PA failings," he said. "They get credit for DNase,but that's about it."

-- Michelle Slade Associate Editor

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