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No Favorite In Race to Treat Lupus

Raymond said the foundation gets a fair return for its work with the biotech firm.

"We'll help a company recruit for trials," Raymond said. "Our role is to hold out hope.

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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"Who is going to bring this disease under control?" she said. "It's the companies. They can bring it under control. We want that."

Genentech, perhaps because of its greater size and success at developing drugs, sees the Lupus Foundation's role differently.

"They're really not there to enroll patients but to inform the public about the disease," said Andrew C. Chan, Genentech's vice president of research for immunology. To that end, the company's medical director gave a presentation about its efforts to develop a lupus drug at the foundation's World Lupus Day in May. Human Genome Sciences also presented at the event.

Winning isn't necessarily the only thing in the race to bring a lupus drug to market. Elise Wang, an analyst with Smith Barney Citigroup, said there's plenty of room for second- and third-place finishers to do well.

There remains the biggest unanswered question: Will either Genentech or Human Genome Sciences produce a drug that really works against lupus?

The giant California company could more easily absorb a failure. Genentech sees Rituxan as one element in a planned suite of immunology drugs.

Craig A. Rosen, Human Genome Sciences' president of research and development, said it would be difficult to determine how much money his company has spent on developing its drug, and, in any case, he wouldn't disclose such a figure.

But he said executives aren't betting the company on the lupus drug -- despite the giant sculpture of BLyS, designed by the daughter of the company's outgoing chief executive, that is the centerpiece in the foyer of the headquarters.

"We'd love to have this drug work but we have many things in the pipeline," including drugs for cancer, hepatitis, and anthrax attacks, Rosen said. "Hopefully we're due now for a few that will work."

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