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eration after infarctions (heart attacks). Although stem cell therapy
to treat heart attack patients has thus far proved elusive, Corether-
apix focuses on adult stem cell populations that reside in the heart
itself. The company is also developing a growth-factor treatment
to stimulate cardiac stem cells to heal the trauma from an attack.
Genetrix scientific director Gabriel Márquez sees Coretherapix
as the next company to duplicate Cellerix's success.
Genetrix's experience has inspired many others interested in
biotechnology, and this has "generated more and more interest in
Spanish society," says Márquez. "The number of companies has
grown considerably, and the sector has seen a notable increase
in support and interest from the government."
Phar maMar, which investigates the antitumor properties of
marine life, was created in 1986 by José María Fernández-Sousa.
Since then, the company has amassed the largest private library
of marine life samples in the world, more than 70,000 to date. Its
scientists regularly go on dives in biologically rich areas in coop-
eration with local governments and research institutions, and they
bring back samples of a wealth of underwater life.
These samples are evaluated for cancer-fighting properties.
The most successful so far has been Yondelis, Phar maMar's first
product to go on the market and the first marine antitumor drug
in the world.
"We isolated it from an invertebrate called Ecteinascidia tur-
binata, which was quite difficult," says Luis Mora, general direc-
tor of Phar maMar. Clinical trials began in 1996, and Yondelis
was licensed to Johnson & Johnson in 2001, with shared rights
for codevelopment and commercialization. Yondelis has been
approved for soft-tissue sarcoma and is awaiting authorization
for use against ovarian cancer as well.
Yondelis works by attaching to the tumor's DNA and preventing
it from reproducing, halting the tumor's growth. "This mechanism
of action is different from other products on the market," says
Mora, "and it will work well in combination with other products."
With ovarian cancer, he explains, there's a synergistic benefit to the
patient when Yondelis is combined with current treatments.
"We think this is only the tip of the iceberg for Yondelis,"
A second product, isolated from a sea creature called a marine
tunicate, is now in clinical trials for use on deep cell lymphomas
and multiple myelomas, both cancers for which today there is no
effective treatment. Two other products are also in the pipeline,
with more on the way.
Noscira, part of the Zeltia Group, in the same family of com-
panies as Phar maMar, takes advantage of the Phar maMar marine
library to search for compounds that could treat central nervous
system diseases. The company began in 2000 with two patents
licensed from the Spanish Research Council; for a family of
compounds to treat Alzheimer's and a transgenic mouse that
reproduces major features of neurodegenerative diseases. The
company has two compounds in clinical trials.
"In the brain of any Alzheimer's patient, you will find tangles
and plaques, the two major lesions that constitute hallmarks of
the disease," says Belén Sopesén, director of Noscira. "The drugs
currently on the market don't work at the level of the lesions, they
only treat the symptoms. They don't delay the disease." Noscira's
compounds are designed to interfere with the development of
the lesions, and thus slow the disease's progression.
In a lab not far from the Phar maMar marine library, Noscira
researchers isolate samples of marine compounds in their screen-
ing platfor ms. If one is found to have promise, it's isolated, devel-
oped, and tested against disease models. Already they have found
a number of marine compounds that have similar mechanisms to
combat Alzheimer's, and are preparing them for clinical trials.
Genomica, also a member of the Zeltia group, focuses on
microarrays---DNA chips---for sensitive and specific diagnos-
tics. Its most popular product today, sold around the world, tests
for the human papilloma vir us (HPV). Unlike standard tests,
where doctors must interpret the data, their product includes
software that gives the doctors the exact results, immediately.
It can also detect small amounts of variations of the virus to
assist early diagnosis.
Above: PharmaMar has built up the world's largest private library of marine samples to investigate for novel cancer-fighting drugs.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PHARMAMAR
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