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Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 11:11 GMT
Biotech hit by drug test failure

Radiation treatment The drug was tested in combination with established cancer therapies

Shares in drugs group British Biotech tumbled following news of failed cancer drug tests.

Clinical trials of Marimastat on pancreatic cancer patients had "failed to show significant improvement in survival", the company announced. Patients with less extensive disease responded better, it added.

Shares in British Biotech fell more than 40% on the news, dropping 19.25p to 28p.

In May 1996 it hit a high point of more than 300p a share.

US drugs group Schering-Plough was also hit by the news as the company had the rights to develop and market Biotech's successful drug therapies.

US drugs group Schering-Plough signed a partnership deal with Biotech last September. The royalties from this deal are worth 38m to the British company.

Marimastat's chequered history

Tuesday's announcement is the latest blow to British Biotech.

Two years ago, it's then director of clinical trials Dr Andrew Millar, told shareholders the drug had limited chance of success.

Share prices plunged and Dr Millar later resigned.

In May that year, chief executive Keith McCullagh, who founded the company in l986, agreed to stand down in September to end the "uncertainty" created by the "unfounded" allegations.

Dr Millar's comments triggered the eventual fall from grace of the UK biotech sector, undermining investor confidence in biotech stocks.

"Disappointing" findings

On Tuesday, Elliott Goldstein, who took over as chief executive at British Biotech following the 1998 scandal, said the Marimastat findings were "disappointing".

He downplayed the impact of the results - the first since the partnership began - on their relationship with Schering-Plough.

"The collaboration is progressing well and these results although negative in the setting of advanced pancreatic cancer, do not alter Schering-Plough's overall interest in and support of the programme," he said.

The Marimastat study was carried out at 37 centres in the US and Europe treating 239 patients suffering from pancreatic cancer. The trials tested the value of the drug when used in combination with an established cancer therapy.

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See also:
15 Feb 99 |  The Company File
More trouble for sick biotech group
23 Sep 98 |  The Company File
Dose of self-help for Biotech
16 Jul 98 |  The Company File
Biotech goes sour

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