California approval of Ecogen Inc.'s Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)insecticide has driven the company's stock price up 24 percentin the past two trading sessions.

Regulators approved the Bt product, called Cutlass, for controlof caterpillars on vegetables. Ecogen, of Langhorne, Pa.,estimates that $60 million is spent annually in California tocontrol the pests. Total annual spending in North America forcaterpillar control is $120 million.

Ecogen stock (NASDAQ:EECN) closed Thursday at $6.50, up 63cents. The stock climbed 63 cents on Wednesday, when theapproval was announced.

Cutlass insecticide has been sold elsewhere in the United Statessince it was approved by the Environmental Protection Agencyin 1989. California is one of the few states that conductsindependent reviews of new pesticides.

Bt, a bacterium containing a toxin that is fatal to lepidopteraninsects but harmless to mammals, has become the darling ofbiotechnology, chemical and seed companies developingpesticides. At least 10 agricultural field trials using Bt weredone in 1990, more than any other biotech product.

Companies are developing genetically altered Bt sprays as wellas putting Bt toxins into plants and other bacteria.

Cutlass is a non-recombinant, genetically altered Bt. Ecogencombines Bt strains through conjugation, the exchange ofgenetic elements through direct contact between bacteria.

Other Ecogen Bt products with EPA approval are Foil for theColorado potato beetle and Condor for the gypsy moth and thespruce budworm.

Mycogen Corp. of San Diego, one of Ecogen's closest competitors,develops Bt products that consist of a Bt toxin placed in a killedPseudomonas bacterium cell.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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