Tuesday September 5 11:07 AM ET
Company develops new gene therapy system

LONDON (Reuters) - Privately owned British biotechnology company Eurogene Ltd. said on Tuesday it had developed a novel system for gene therapy, using a new type of virus to transfer genes into the body.

The system, using a baculovirus as the ``vector'' to carry genetic material, has so far been shown to work successfully in rabbits, according to a report in the journal Gene Therapy.

Eurogene hopes to start human trials before the end of 2001.

Gene therapy involves infusing new genes into the body to treat disease--but the use of viruses as vectors has raised concerns. The most efficient carriers currently in use are adenoviruses, a class of germs responsible for the common cold.

``Baculoviruses are currently used in insecticides and their advantage is that they don't infect any vertebrate species. The other viruses in use are all human pathogens,'' Eurogene's director of development, Alan Boyd, told Reuters.

``In addition, you can get much larger pieces of genes into the baculoviruses.''

He hopes the new vector system can be used as the basis of new gene therapy treatments for cancer, heart disease and neurological conditions.

The problem Eurogene scientists had to overcome was how to stop the mammalian immune system from immediately breaking down the baculovirus before it could transfer its genetic payload. The answer was to use a proprietary collar mechanism which protects the virus long enough for it to reach cells.