"Our principal competition is death," said Lawrence Botticelli ofBioTransplant Inc., a start-up company that hopes to developnovel solutions to organ transplant rejection.

Founded in February, BioTransplant's ultimate goal is to usexenografts -- grafts from animal sources -- in place of humanorgans.

The company's primary research focus will be on cardiactransplants. Two million patients in the United States sufferfrom congestive heart failure, and half die within a year ofbeing diagnosed, said Botticelli, who is executive vice presidentof the company. Livers and kidneys are the other majortransplant organs. The supply of human organs can fill about10 percent of the need.

Transplants cost $1 billion in the United States in 1988, saidBotticelli. In addition, each patient needs $75,000 ofimmunosuppressive therapy annually to prevent rejection ofthe transplant. Up to 50 percent of these patients die in thefirst year due to graft rejection or secondary diseases causedby immunosuppression.

In the short term, the company hopes to induce host toleranceto donated pig organs by irradiating pig bone marrow, mixing itwith human bone marrow and then putting it back into thehuman host.

In the medium term, BioTransplant wants to induce hosttolerance to transplanted pig organs by altering human bloodstem cells. Pig genes will be introduced into the cells, whichwill then recognize the pig as non-foreign.

The company's longer-term goal is to create immune-deficientlines of donor animals. Organs from these animals wouldobviate the need for long-term immunosuppressive therapy.

To support its programs, the company hopes to develop newgenerations of inbred swine, building on work begun at theNational Cancer Institute.

The company, based in Cambridge, Mass., has a collaborativeresearch agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital ofBoston. Dr. David Sachs, who developed the swine while chief ofthe National Cancer Institute's immunology branch, now headsthe Transplantation Biology Research Center at MassachusettsGeneral. Sachs is chairman of BioTransplant's scientific advisoryboard.

HealthCare Investment Corp. of Edison, N.J., is BioTransplant'sonly investor.

Botticelli, who was vice president of business development atIsis Pharmaceuticals of Carlsbad, Calif., was BioTransplant'sfirst employee. He recently hired Elliot Lebowitz as chiefexecutive officer. Lebowitz was vice president of research anddevelopment at C.R. Bard Vascular Systems in Billerica, Mass.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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