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biota to develope hiv drug

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    Tuesday 29 July 6:50 PM


    Australia's Biota in talks to develop HIV drug

    By Clarence Fernandez

    SYDNEY, July 29 (Reuters) - Drug developer Biota Holdings Ltd (ASX: BTA) said on Tuesday it is in talks with two potential partners to work on a drug to fight HIV/AIDS that it believes can be brought to market faster than usual.

    Biota's anti-influenza drug Relenza is the only compound taken to market by an Australian pharmaceutical company through every stage from start to finish, but it has not lived up to initial hopes.

    Biota said in April it had used proprietary technology to create "nucleotide mimics", novel versions of nucleoside drugs, with greater impact and fewer side effects than AZT, or zidovudine, a leading anti-HIV nucleoside drug.

    "It shouldn't be a long-winded and complex pathway to market," Managing Director Peter Molloy told Reuters. "I would be disappointed if it weren't significantly shorter than a classical clinical development pathway for a new drug."

    But he declined to specify a timeframe.

    Biota shares slipped 1.9 percent to A$0.52 in a weaker overall market.

    Molloy said Biota seeks a partner with a stake in the HIV market -- which he estimated as being worth $4 billion a year -- and which is looking for the next generation of nucleoside-based HIV drugs.

    Biota has already begun talks with two of a dozen potential collaborators it has identified, he added.

    "We believe what we've got could represent a whole new class of drugs. It could represent the next generation."

    Molloy believes the HIV drug could be brought to market relatively quickly because the compound is based on an existing drug whose side-effect profile is well-known to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, thus helping to speed trials and testing.

    FLUNET DEVELOPMENT

    Biota's most advanced drug development programme centres on Flunet, its second generation flu drug being developed in alliance with Japanese pharmaceutical firm Sankyo Co., Ltd.

    "We are now actively looking for development partners in conjunction with Sankyo to take that into further clinical development and ultimately, commercialisation," Molloy said.

    Molloy said the company was also working to find a drug for the flu-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which spread round the world to kill more than 800 people and infect more than 8,000 after emerging in China late last year.

    Biota reported in March a net loss of A$5.5 million for the six months to December 2002, against operating cash outflow of A$4.7 million, bringing group cash reserves to A$24.5 million.

    "We said at that time that our cash burn for the second half of the year would be similar and that's been pretty much the case," Molloy said, but did not give specific numbers.

    Biota raised A$2.5 million from the June sale of a stake of 7.5 percent to investment banking firm Babc*ck and Brown Pty Ltd. ($1=A$1.52)

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