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    Peplin Biotech hopeful of molecule found in Petty Spurge

    By Janelle Miles
    BRISBANE, AAP - It's basically a common garden weed with a
    reputation as a folk remedy for treating sun spots.
    But a molecule found in Petty Spurge could one day turn the
    poisonous backyard pest into a big money spinner for a
    publicly-listed Queensland company.
    Peplin Biotech Ltd managing director Garry Redlich said phase
    one human clinical trials of a cream using the molecule, Pep 005,
    as a treatment for non-melanoma skin cancers, could begin in the
    United Kingdom by December.
    He said a pilot trial of 41 Brisbane patients using an unpure
    mixture of compounds, including Pep 005, found it was 95 per cent
    effective against basal and squamous cell carcinomas under 16mm in
    diameter.
    Professor Bruce Ward, on Peplin's medical advisory committee,
    used himself as a guinea pig in the early trial after he developed
    a basal cell carcinoma on his right cheek.
    The professor of gynaecological oncology at the University of
    Queensland said the cancer disappeared after using the cream once a
    day for three days about a year ago and has not returned.
    "I got a bit of local skin reaction which didn't upset me too
    much and then it went away," Professor Ward said.
    Peplin is negotiating with an international pharmaceutical
    company to help it fund worldwide clinical trials, expected to cost
    tens of millions of dollars, and to then commercialise the cream.
    Mr Redlich said the cream could be on chemists' shelves by 2005,
    reducing the need for expensive plastic surgery and slashing the
    huge costs to the Australian health system of non-melanoma skin
    cancers.
    The benefits of Pep 005 may not end there.
    Preliminary studies by the Queensland Institute of Medical
    Research (QIMR) has shown the plant molecule may be an agent
    against a range of cancers.
    QIMR's Professor Peter Parsons is investigating its potential
    usefulness against internal cancers.
    "The preliminary results show it's active on other sorts of
    cancers as well as non-melanoma skin cancers," he said.
    "But it's a big jump from that to injecting it into people or
    even into animals."
    Pep 005 is currently before the United States' National Cancer
    Institute for evaluation.
    "In the studies they've done to date ... they found that Pep 005
    was incredibly potent against some of the major systemic cancers
    including leukaemias, collectoral cancers and renal cancer," Mr
    Redlich said.
    But that was only in the test tube.
    The next step, underway at the moment, is to get results in mice
    and hopefully, then proceed to human clinical trials.
    "If they get the same results in mice, they may then sponsor and
    pay for the clinical studies to take it forward against systemic
    cancers (in humans)," Mr Redlich said.
    Peplin Biotech listed in September 2000 at 40 cents a share and
    opened today at 68 cents.
    Mr Redlich said the company had another dozen or so compounds
    under study.
    "The scientific base of the company has greatly expanded to
    include a number of promising anti-cancer drugs," he said.
    "The first product will be a skin cancer drug developed from Pep
    005 but the future of the company will be from a range of molecules
    from different sources."
    Mr Redlich said the folklore surrounding spurge plants goes back
    to Roman times with claims of them being used for treatment of a
    range of disorders from distemper to insanity.
    Doctors warn against people trying to use Petty Spurge to treat
    themselves.
    AAP jhm/mg/sb

 
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