Escagenetics Corp., the agricultural biotech company whosestock has soared in response to its new method of makingtaxol, will stick to being a supplier of the scarce chemicalrather than try to market it as a cancer drug.

"We don't even want to get involved with clinical trials,"Raymond Moshy, president and chief executive officer, toldBioWorld. "We view ourselves as a taxol source. Our long-termstrategy is (plant) pharmaceuticals. We decided to go aftertaxol as a natural extension of what we are doing."

Taxol has been successful in treating breast and ovariancancer in clinical trials, but it takes six 100-year-old Pacificyews to supply enough of the chemical to treat one person fora year. Environmentalists have protested the taking of the raretree from its habitat in the Pacific Northwest.

Escagenetics of San Carlos, Calif., announced Tuesday that ithas developed a culture of plant cells capable of producingtaxol without leveling ancient yews. The company will gear upto produce 100 kilograms a year, five times as much as is nowobtained from the Pacific yew, Moshy said.

In order to make taxol, said Moshy, Escagenetics applied itsnormal development strategy: collecting samples of diversespecies, carefully screening for the compound of interest andmodifying plant cells in culture with Agrobacteriumtumefaciens, a bacterium that infects plants and can carry avirus that can modify plant genes.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. has also launched a research programto find an alternate way to produce taxol and has adevelopment agreement with the National Cancer Institute todevelop taxol as a cancer treatment.

Bristol-Myers Squibb has licensed technology developed atFlorida State University, Tallahassee, that derives taxol fromthe more abundant English yew and does not requiredestruction of the tree.

-- Roberta Friedman Special to BioWorld

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