Cytel Corp. researchers reported Friday in Cell the discovery ofa novel approach to blocking immune response that they said is100 times more potent than existing approaches.

The approach will permit Cytel to design drugs to treatautoimmune diseases and allergies that will be more selectiveand more potent than conventional major histocompatibilitycomplex (MHC) blockers under development, said Jay Kranzler,president and chief executive.

Cytel shares (NASDAQ:CYTL) rose $1.50 Friday to $15.

MHC binds to antigens and presents them to the immunesystem's T cells. People have up to six types of MHCmolecules.

The conventional MHC blockade strategy, which Cytel hadfollowed, begins from the knowledge that certain autoimmunediseases are associated with particular MHC molecules, saidKranzler. So although scientists don't know what the auto-antigen is, they suspect that it's being presented by a particularMHC molecule, and try to selectively block that MHC molecule.

Like conventional MHC blockers, Cytel's new T cell receptorantagonists bind to MHC. But in addition, the MHC-antagonistcomplex can bind to T cell receptors, blocking binding of MHC-antigen molecules. The latter is what gives them their addedpotency.

The San Diego company plans to develop compounds first totreat type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis in the autoimmunearea. In the allergy area, Cytel will begin with Celiac disease, awheat allergy that is a good model system, Kranzler said. Workis in the research stage.

Cytel will pursue some development work independently, andpart will be done with Sandoz Pharma Ltd. The companies in1989 began a collaborative agreement to develop drugs to treatautoimmune diseases and transplant rejection.

ImmuLogic Pharmaceutic Corp. (NASDAQ:IMUL) of Cambridge,Mass., is working with Merck & Co. Inc. to develop MHCblockers that prevent antigens from binding to MHC to treattype I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. ImmuLogic sharesFriday rose 25 cents to $16.25.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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