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No Favorite In Race to Treat Lupus

The annual meetings of the American College of Rheumatology is important for potential lupus drugs because rheumatologists are the front-line care providers for lupus patients. The meetings are watched by Wall Street analysts and experts as well.

"The conferences are where you're getting your actual data," McCamant said. "If I get there and see actual data that something is working, that's when I go 'wow,' that's when things get exciting. And that's when the market reacts. At the conferences, that's where you're creating more sustainable value."

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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Four years ago, Human Genome scientists traveled to Philadelphia with some of their academic collaborators for the meeting, at which they presented findings indicating that too much BLyS plays a role in lupus.

Last September, the company went to the rheumatology meeting to present results showing that, in initial human testing, LymphoStat-B was well-tolerated and significantly reduced levels of circulating disease-fighting cells.

The announcements did not help the company's stock price. In fact, it fell nearly $8 a share the day of the first announcement, though company officials maintain that the conference presentations increased their credibility in the scientific community.

At next month's rheumatology meeting, Human Genome Sciences will also be well-represented, although company officials said they plan no major announcements.

Genentech presents at a number of scientific conferences, including the rheumatology meetings, at which the company has disclosed test results for treating rheumatoid arthritis with Rituxan and plans to do so again next month. The company is also planning a symposium on the potential role of disease-fighting cells in arthritis.

Human Genome Sciences also has worked to cultivate a relationship with the Lupus Foundation of America Inc., the largest and most influential advocacy group for lupus patients. The foundation closely examines potential treatments and sometimes allows its views to be quoted in company news releases, which are distributed to analysts and, through the foundation, to patients around the world.

"These companies need credibility," said Susan M. Manzi, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Lupus Center of Excellence. "For one thing, if you can't get patients into your studies, then you're done. You have no chance at developing your drug." She said patients with lupus, which usually is not fatal in the short term, may be less likely to try a drug that has uncertain results than patients, such as those with end-state cancer, who face near-certain death.

"And that's really in the end what we've looked for," Stump said. "The stamp of credibility to the patient community that says 'This is a real possibility, you should strongly consider being part of this trial.' " In July, when Human Genome Sciences had enrolled 449 patients in its advance tests, Sandra C. Raymond, president of the Lupus Foundation, publicly spoke of the research. "The LymphoStat-B Phase 2 clinical trial is one of the largest ever conducted in lupus patients, and we will be following it with great interest," she said in a news release issued by the company.

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