Healthy start for herb cure company

A DRUGS company hoping to cash in on the vogue for natural health remedies is set to raise up to pounds 16m when it comes to the stock market next month.

Phytopharm (from phyto, Latin for plant) makes medicines from plants and herbs. Its main product at present is Zemaphyte, a treatment for severe eczema.

The company was launched by Dr Geoffrey Guy, chairman of drugs delivery firm Ethical Holdings, in 1990. Among otherpromising products is P30, based on an African herb for the treatment of diabetes, which is currently in pre-clinical trials.

Robin Gilbert, drugs analyst at stockbrokers Panmure Gordon, said: "The commercial prospects of Zemaphyte and its derivatives are very promising ... the company should have an exciting future."

The emphasis on natural medicine is in contrast to the recent biotech boom. Dr Richard Dixey, chief executive, uses the word "herbaceutical" to describe Phytopharm's approach.

Phytopharm does not isolate the active compound in remedies but repackages them - usually as tablets - and tests for their efficacy. "We take remedies where there is already strong evidence they can work," said Dr Dixey. Biotech companies instead try to develop compounds from scratch and most fall by the wayside.

Herbal remedies can have side-effects. The National Eczema Society expressed concern after a 28-year-old woman died from liver failure after taking a Chinese therapy not marketed by Phytopharm.