Centocor Inc. said Monday that it has received a broad Europeanpatent for its septic shock product. Rival Xoma Corp. promptlycounter-punched, saying it would oppose the patent.

Centocor has exclusive rights to the patent, No. 0151128,which was issued to the Velos Group. The patent covers anypharmaceutical to treat gram-negative bacterial infectionsthat contains a monoclonal antibody that binds to theendotoxin core of gram-negative bacteria.

Stock of Malvern,Pa.-based Centocor (NASDAQ:CNTO) gained $3on Monday, closing at $37.25. Xoma stock (NASDAQ:XOMA) rose38 cents, closing at $24.

"It's a critical event for (Centocor) because Xoma has no issuedpatent in Europe," said Mark Simon, a biotech analyst atRobertson Stephens & Co. "The patent is extremely broad andthe claims are very strong."

Centocor has already fended off three prior challenges to itsEuropean filing, including two by Xoma, said Simon.

Gram-negative sepsis can lead to septic shock, which ismarked by heart, liver and respiratory failure, and severeinternal bleeding. The condition is caused when bacterianormally present in the gut are spilled into the body by surgeryor injury. Up to 75 percent of patients die with conventionaltreatment.

Centocor's Centoxin has received marketing approval in theNetherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany. In a June 26report, Hambrecht & Quist analyst Jacqueline Siegel estimatedCentoxin's European sales at $24 million in 1991, rising to$225.3 million in 1994.

Xoma of Berkeley, Calif., in April 1990 sued Centocor forinfringement of Xoma's U.S. patent No. 4,918,163, which wasissued to the University of California and exclusively licensedto Xoma. Centocor countersued in June 1990, denying that ithad infringed and claiming that Xoma's patent was invalid andunenforceable. The Velos Group filed for a U.S. patent in 1983.That patent hasn't issued.

"We think Centocor will have a U.S. patent issued by year-end,"said Simon. Simon said Xoma's use patent isn't as broad asCentocor's composition of matter patent.

The European patent gives Centocor an advantage over Xoma inEurope, Simon said. In the United States, the two might end upcross-licensing if Xoma's patent is upheld, but the matter isprobably about three years from final resolution, he said.

Neither company will reveal its strategy for the upcomingtrial of the U.S. patent claims, which is scheduled to begin onJuly 15.

Both Centoxin and Xoma's E5 are awaiting Food and DrugAdministration review. Although no date has been set, manyanalysts expect the products to be reviewed in September.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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