Stanford set for drug trial boost

Stanford Rook is expected to release positive results of a big clinical trial for its tuberculosis drug on Tuesday - a large step towards a market worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

An independent safety board is meeting this weekend to tabulate the results of a "phase III," or final-stage clinical trial on several hundred patients in South Africa, where the infectious disease is prevalent, according to Robin Gilbert, analyst with Panmure Gordon.

The results are expected to reflect those of earlier trials in Vietnam, which showed the drug, SRL172, was more effective against the disease when used with common antibiotics made by Novartis, Hoechst and others, than on its own.

"If the Vietnamese trial results are reproduced over here, they could have themselves a blockbuster," said Erling Refsum, analyst at Yamaichi International (Europe). "We already know the drug works. This trial is more of a regulatory hoop they have to go through to get approval."

Stanford Rook shares have risen 19 per cent in the last five days, from a 52-week low of 445p to 531.5p in anticipation of the results.

The company, which is also developing the same "immunotherapy" drug as a treatment for various cancers and HIV, has said it plans to file for approval for the drug as a tuberculosis treatment in 1998.

Tuberculosis kills about 3 million people each year, mostly in developing regions such as Africa and Asia.