Alpha-Beta Technology Inc. said its first product has enteredclinical trials to treat and suppress infections related to upper-abdominal surgery and cancer chemotherapy.

The South Plainfield, N.J., company said Betafactin, acarbohydrate polymer (PGG) derived from geneticallyengineered yeast, is the first of a new generation ofcarbohydrate pharmaceuticals to enter the clinic.

Engineered carbohydrate polymers, called polysaccharides, arepotentially significantly less toxic and less expensive toproduce than recombinant proteins, said Spiros Jamas,president and chief executive officer.

Preclinical development of Betafactin has demonstratedeffectiveness against gram-negative, gram-positive and yeastinfections, Jamas told BioWorld. "Monoclonal products are onlyeffective against gram-negative sepsis," he said. "About 60percent of sepsis is due to gram-positive and some fungalorganisms, so we really see a very significant market potentialfor Betafactin."

Alpha-Beta is initially targeting the market for patients whohave a high risk of opportunistic infections fromgastrointestinal surgeries, worth $600 million, Jamas said.Because of its projected lower cost, Betafactin could capture aportion of the $10 billion U.S. market for anti-infectives used inmore routine surgeries, where risk is lower, he said.

PGG is the first carbohydrate engineered to stimulateproduction of white blood cells and infection-fighting activityby targeting the b-glucan receptor on white blood cells. Unlikeother treatments, PGG does not cause toxic inflammatoryreactions, Jamas said.

Alpha-Beta has exclusive licenses to several issued andpending patents on yeast glucan technology from theMassachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham andWomen's Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Alpha-Beta hasbeen issued or allowed an additional 12 patents on engineeredcarbohydrates.

Alpha-Beta is also developing Cholestran, a carbohydrate-basedcholesterol-lowering prescription drug, and Fibercel, aconcentrated fiber supplement and fat substitute.

The privately held company was founded in 1988 with$350,000 from Commonwealth Bioventures. Four subsequentrounds of venture capital have raised $7.15 million. In the lastround, Commonwealth was joined by Concord Partners andAdvent International. Individual investors have contributed$1.5 million.

Alpha-Beta is beginning another private round, led by VectorSecurities of Illinois, that should raise $8 million to $10 millionby the end of the first quarter, Jamas said. Funds will be usedfor Betafactin clinical trials, developing orally activeformulations of PGG for treatment of chronic infections,development of new carbohydrate molecules that treatinflammatory diseases by targeting the b-glucan receptor, andconstruction of a second pilot plant for production of futureCholestran products.

-- Kris Herbst BioWorld Washington Bureau

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