Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Friday that it has received a$505,287 grant for immunosuppressive drug research from theNational Institutes of Health.

The Phase II small business innovation research grant willsupport the Cambridge, Mass., company's discovery anddevelopment, using structure-based design of low-toxicityimmunosuppressants. Vertex is developing the small-moleculedrugs for organ transplant rejection and autoimmune diseasessuch as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis anddiabetes.

Vertex shares (NASDAQ:VRTX) rose $1.25 to $16.25.

Vertex said it hopes to isolate and analyze the gene thatencodes a protein called the FK506/rapamycin binding protein(FKBP). "By looking at the genes we can identify relatedproteins," said Richard Aldrich, vice president of businessdevelopment. "This will ultimately lead to a betterunderstanding of the whole mechanism of immunosuppressionand opportunities for a second generation of drugs."

The company's compounds, which it is developing incollaboration with Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., have beendesigned to selectively target FKBP. Agents that bind to FKBPcan inhibit the proliferation of T cells that are involved in therejection of transplanted organs and in the autoimmune diseaseprocess. -- Karen Bernstein

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