Cancer drug lifts British Biotech

MAGNUS GRIMOND

British Biotech saw its stock market value soar pounds 244m to pounds 748m yesterday after the fledgling biotechnology company reported what could be a breakthrough for its new anti-cancer drug, marimastat.

The new oral drug was shown to halt the growth or actually reduce cancerous tumours in a third of the 94 patients involved in the initial human test programme. The rate of increase in tumours was slowed in a further 26 per cent.

The news prompted the shares to jump pounds 5.05 to pounds 15.48 yesterday, with excited City analysts suggesting that they could hit pounds 20 next year.

Dr Peter Lewis, British Biotech's head of research and investment, said: "This is the first evidence from human trials that marimastat may have an effect on the progression of human cancer." However, he said firm conclusions must await completion of clinical testing.

Phase III trials could start in the second half of next year, with analysts pencilling in approval of the drug in Europe and the US by 1999. The latest results make it virtually certain that holders of British Biotech warrants will now convert into ordinary shares in December and January, raising pounds 47.5m for the company and ensuring its continued survival.

British Biotech announced a pounds 4.03m loss for the three months to October, taking the deficit in the latest half year to pounds 11m from pounds 12.3m before.

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