Isis Pharmaceuticals and ITRI of Taiwan Initiate SARS Antisense Drug Discovery Effort

CARLSBAD, Calif., and HSINCHU, Taiwan -- Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and the Industrial and Technology Research Institute (ITRI) of Taiwan announced today that they will collaborate to identify antisense drug candidates targeting the coronavirus associated with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Under the agreement, Isis will conduct the antisense drug discovery research and ITRI will provide $2 million in initial funding to initiate the collaboration, with the potential for further funding. The primary goals of the initial phase of the collaboration are to identify one or more SARS antisense drugs and to develop aerosol and intravenous formulations in preparation for pre-clinical toxicology studies.

"We are pleased to lead Taiwan's efforts to find a treatment for SARS, which is clearly a worldwide public health threat," said Johnsee Lee, PhD, Executive vice president and chief technology officer of ITRI. "Antisense technology represents a rapid and efficient approach to drug discovery, and we are optimistic that our work with Isis, the leader in this field, will produce important new antiviral medications for patients with SARS."

Isis responded to the SARS outbreak by initiating an aggressive antisense drug discovery program. The company has synthesized approximately 200 antisense inhibitors to regions of the coronavirus sequences that are unchanged, or conserved, across all known SARS related sequences. These inhibitors will be the subject of the initial research work conducted within the Isis/ITRI collaboration.

"Antisense technology is extremely well-suited to address the SARS outbreak. Using Isis' proprietary screening methods, we can rapidly identify and produce highly selective antisense drugs that target areas in the RNA that seem less likely to mutate," said C. Frank Bennett, PhD, Isis' vice president, antisense research. "Based on past experience, antisense drugs can be rapidly formulated for aerosol and parenteral delivery. Our studies show that antisense drugs delivered through these routes readily reach the lung and intestine, which are primary locations for SARS virus replication. Further, the safety and pharmacokinetics of our second-generation antisense drugs are well understood, enabling us to move new drugs toward the clinic expeditiously. We are pleased to bring our expertise to bear on this important issue."

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness that has recently been reported in Asia, North America, and Europe. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 8,459 probable cases and 805 deaths from SARS have been reported worldwide as of June 23, 2003. Scientists from multiple laboratories throughout the world have detected a previously unrecognized coronavirus (called SARS CoV) in patients with SARS. This novel coronavirus is believed to be the cause of SARS. SARS symptoms include fever, headache, an overall feeling of discomfort, body aches, and respiratory symptoms, which may be mild or may become severe and life threatening. The primary way that SARS appears to spread is by close person-to-person contact.

Source: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.