Genetics Institute Inc. announced on Monday the discovery of anenzyme that could lead to new treatments for inflammation.

If successful, new products would compete in the $10 billionworldwide market for oral and injectable steroids.

The enzyme, cPLA2 (cytosolic phospholipase A2), acts at anearly stage of the inflammatory cascade responsible forsymptoms of diseases such as arthritis, asthma and psoriasis.Genetics Institute described the cloning and expression of acDNA encoding a novel PLA2 in the June 14 issue of the journalCell.

"We've found the target, which is the most important step," L.Patrick Gage, executive vice president of the Cambridge, Mass.,company, told BioWorld. "Now we have to find inhibitors toblock its function. We're screening compounds to find leads."

GI is collaborating with Syntex Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif., todevelop small molecules to block the action of cPLA2.Activation of cPLA2 releases arachidonic acid, which in turninitiates synthesis of the inflammatory mediatorsprostaglandins, leukotrienes and platelet-activating factor.

Oral and injectable steroids inhibit these mediators, probablyby causing production of natural PLA inhibitors, said Gage. Butsteroids also have considerable toxicity. "We're finding anotherway to do that without the side-effects of steroids," he said.

A number of companies are targeting inflammatory diseases,including Immunex Corp., Synergen Inc., Icos Corp., NovaPharmaceutical Corp., Biogen Inc., Genentech Inc. and CellGenesys Inc. Like GI, they are targeting various steps in theearly stages of the inflammatory process.

GI stock (NASDAQ:GENI) closed Monday at $34.75, up $1.25.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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