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Monday, February 15, 1999 Published at 14:16 GMT

Business: The Company File

More trouble for sick biotech group

British Biotech has fallen from grace

Shares in the troubled UK group British Biotech slumped more than 15% after it announced that one of its new products, an anti-cancer drug, had failed early tests.

The drug, called marimastat, had failed to show any effectiveness in treating pancreatic cancer.

British Biotech, a former stock market star which has crashed down to earth over the past few years, saw its shares tumble another 4p to 22p. However, the stock had recovered 1p to 23p by 1300 GMT.

The Oxford based group has been shrouded in controversy after it sacked its head of clinical research Dr Andrew Millar, who had cast doubts about the effectiveness of British Biotech's drugs.

[ image: Dr Andrew Millar criticised the group's treatments]
Dr Andrew Millar criticised the group's treatments
British Biotech said it was now assessing the outlook for marimistat, stressing that the results of further studies would be needed before a complete assessment could be made.

The disappointing announcement came as the group unveiled a loss of £25m for the nine months to 31 January, down from a £30m loss during the same period of the previous year.

British Biotech had been able to trim losses by cutting costs and its research budget.

Another set-back

The marimastat set-back followed the decision in December to halt trials on the drug's use for ovarian cancer.

However British Biotechnology moved to try to reassure shareholders by claiming that the pancreatic cancer test was one of ten studies underway and among the most difficult.

"This is probably one of the hardest tests, because this cancer is deadly, and rapidly deadly," said the company's chief executive Elliott Goldstein.

Mr Goldstein replaced Keith McCullagh last August, who became embroiled in a public row with Dr Millar.

British Biotech was the former flagship of the biotech industry and used to be a darling of the stock market before doubts began to grow about some of its drugs. Its shares have since collapsed.

The US Food and Drug Administration also expressed concerns about its optimistic accounts of marimastat.

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