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No Favorite In Race to Treat Lupus

Genentech, Rockville's Human Genome Sciences Each Has a Promising Drug in the Pipeline

By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2004; Page E01

The race to bring to market the most important new drug to treat lupus in 40 years hardly seems an even match.

Genentech Inc. of South San Francisco, Calif., has 13 drugs on the market and calls itself "the founder of the biotechnology industry." It had revenue of $3.3 billion last year.

Human Genome Sciences executives -- from left, Craig A. Rosen, Vivian R. Albert, William W. Freimuth, David M. Hilbert and David C. Stump -- gather around a sculpture based on BLyS at company headquarters in Rockville. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Its chief competitor, Human Genome Sciences Inc. of Rockville, has raised a more than a billion dollars but has yet to bring a single drug to market. Two of its drugs have flopped, and its stock has slumped from $109 a share four years ago to less than $11. It had revenue of $8.2 million last year.

Yet experts say the race between the biotech companies to develop a new drug for an agonizing disease that affects 1.5 million people in the United States alone is hard to handicap. "You can't really say yet," said John T. McCamant, editor of the Medical Technology Stock Letter, which tracks dozens of biotech firms and treatments.

Executives at Human Genome Sciences say their first concern is helping those with lupus, but they don't deny the pressure to be first to offer a new drug that could generate several hundred millions of dollars a year in sales.

"Our goal is to develop well, but to also develop fast and be first," said David C. Stump, the company's executive vice president of drug development.

On the surface, the race is being waged by researchers in laboratories and by medical personnel running drug trials. But it is also a contest of coalition building, marketing and prestige as the companies work to impress academic experts and win over patient-advocate organizations.

"You've got to convince the world out there -- and by the world, at a minimum you're talking about the patients who have to participate in trials and the investigators who have to conduct them -- that you have something that's got a decent chance of altering the disease," Stump said.

The campaign for credibility is aimed in part at casting the biotech company's interests as more than commercial. But the net effect of the courting is commercial.

"What you're doing is establishing a market," said Edward A. Tenthoff, an analyst with Piper Jaffray.

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