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Firms Team Up to Work on Hepatitis C Vaccine

Inovio Biomedical Corp. announced a partnership recently with Sweden-based Tripep AB to develop a vaccine for the hepatitis C virus.

The companies will work to develop a therapy for the virus using a combination of their technologies ,Tripep’s hepatitis C antigen, which triggers an immune system against the virus, and Inovio’s MedPulser DNA Electroporation Therapy System, which delivers DNA into muscle cells.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus found in the blood. About 3.4 million people are infected in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the number of new infections each year declined an average of about 240,000 in the 1980s to about 30,000 in 2003.

San Diego-based Inovio develops therapies for cancer and other diseases.

Inovio Chief Executive Officer Avtar Dhillon said the agreement represents Inovio’s first step to secure full rights to a product.

Under the agreement, Inovio will initially get 33 percent ownership in the overall product with the option to increase it to 50 percent after the first phase of clinical trials is completed.

Inovio’s MedPulser is already in clinical trials in Europe to treat head and neck cancer.

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New Ticker With A Split:

Avanir Pharmaceuticals Inc. has changed its American Stock Exchange ticker symbol as a result of a stock split approved in March by its board of directors.

The San Diego biotech company began trading under the new ticker symbol, AVN.R, Jan. 17.

The one-for-four reverse stock split meant the company now has 30.8 million outstanding shares with a market capitalization of $1.9 billion as of Jan. 18, according to Yahoo Finance.

Avanir has one drug on the market already, Abreva, which treats cold sores, marketed by North Carolina-based GlaxoSmithKline, and is in late-stage clinical trials with Neurodex to treat uncontrollable laughing or crying in patients with neurological disorders.

Avanir reported a net loss of $30.6 million for the fourth quarter of 2005, ending Sept. 30, compared with a net loss of $28.2 million the year before. The current loss amounts to a drop of about 30 cents per share. The company’s stock closed at $3.96 the day of the news, down 10 cents or nearly 2.5 percent.

In the first full day of trading following the stock split, shares closed at $16.01.

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Favrille Sees Fast Track:

The Food and Drug Administration recently granted San Diego-based Favrille, Inc. a fast-track designation for Favld, a potential treatment for B-cell follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

A fast-track designation is meant to expedite the review of new drugs intended to treat serious or life threatening conditions and that demonstrate potential to address unmet medical needs.

Favld is in the third stage of clinical trials.

In 2005, drug companies submitted 83 requests for fast-track designation, and the FDA granted 54 of them, according to the agency.

The company’s stock closed at $5.39 the day of the announcement, Jan. 12, up $1.35 from the previous day’s closing price.

Contact Katie Weeks with biotech news at kweeks@sdbj.com, or call (858) 277-6359.


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