Nova to announce new anti-inflammatory drug


NEW YORK -- Nova Pharmaceutical Corp. will announce today a new anti-inflammatory drug that the company says could have broad applications for common problems such as rheumatoid arthritis and contact dermatitis.

The drug, part of a family known as leumedins, is in the midst of medical trials and won't be on the market for several years at best.

But the Baltimore-based company says there has been a significant enough breakthrough to justify the one of the highest-profile news briefings since Nova's founding in 1982.

"The good news is that if it has a solution [for inflammatory diseases] you are talking a huge potential market," said George Shipp, an analyst with Scott & Stringfellow. "The bad news is it will take a long time in coming, and we don't if it has side affects."

Currently, inflammations are treated with drugs such as ibuprofen and steroids, notably hydrocortisone, the company said, adding, "Neither of these is totally effective, and [both] may cause side effects."

Nova says leumedins might treat more types of inflammatory diseases more effectively with fewer side effects than other drugs on the market. But a considerable, and uncertain, period of testing remains. In the past, noted Jonathan Frank, an analyst with Swiss Bank Corp., "some of [Nova's] most promising developments haven't panned out."

Though no details are being revealed pending today's disclosure, company spokesman Tony Russo said the drugs passed the first round of required tests last year and human applications began.

Marketing to the public will require the completion of two additional phases of testing and a lengthy application process with the Food and Drug Administration. Final approval is unlikely for at least three to four years, Mr. Russo said.

Although drugs directed toward certain types of diseases -- particularly acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- have received far faster reviews, analysts suggest that leumedins probably won't.

"There are far more people who have [anti-inflammatory] diseases," said Viren Mehta with the New York research firm Mehta & Isaly, but those people's diseases are not as life-threatening, he said.

News of Nova's pending announcement had little effect on its stock, which closed unchanged at $1.875 a share yesterday.

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