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VIRATEK INITIATES NEW PHARMACEUTICAL DISCOVERY PROGRAM TO TARGET GENE-SPECIFIC DISEASES

 COSTA MESA, Calif., July 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Viratek Inc. (AMEX: VRA, VRAE) announced today that it has initiated a new pharmaceutical discovery program to develop new therapeutic drugs that selectively block the expression of specific genes that cause disease. The program will be based on oligonucleotide antisense technology.
 The effort will be led by Wilfried Eckehart Seifert, Ph.D., former head of the Laboratory for Molecular Neurobiology at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany. Seifert and his discovery group will be incorporated into Viratek's existing research and development operations.
 The new research activity will target antisense therapy against cancer, and viral and skin disorders. The program will seek to synthesize, characterize and patent antisense oligonucleotides that interact with growth factors, receptors, oncogenes (cancer-causing genes) and viruses.
 Nucleotides are subunits of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) or RNA (ribonucleic acid). Genes consist of thousands of nucleotides. The antisense program is aimed at constructing relatively short sequences of up to 20 nucleotides, so-called oligonucleotides. These oligonucleotides are built like mirror images of small parts of DNA or RNA molecules. They bind tightly and only to a specific sequence of nucleotides, thereby blocking expression of specific gene material. For example, if a cancer gene (oncogene) is blocked by a specific anticancer oligonucleotide, the protein responsible for uncontrolled growth of the tumor cannot be made.
 The antisense program will be an addition to Viratek's current development work with the antiviral Virazole against hepatitis C and anticancer compounds now in late preclinical or early clinical development. The new discovery direction is complementary to antiviral and dermatological product categories currently marketed by Viratek's sister company, SPI Pharmaceuticals. It will also allow Viratek to utilize the several thousand nucleotides it has synthesized. The effort will initially involve 15 scientists.
 "This new research program seeks to take advantage of an increasing understanding of the human genome in recent years, as exemplified by the results of the Human Genome Project. The oligonucleotide program is intended to provide a pipeline of products that will follow those that we now have in development. If we are successful, they will give us our new drugs for the 21st century," said Nils Johannesson, M.D., Ph.D., president of Viratek.
 Seifert has been associated with the University of Tubingen and the University of Gottingen since 1976, where he has taught molecular neurobiology. He has also served in senior research positions at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the Max Planck Institute in 1966.
 The new research direction is being conducted under the chairmanship of Viratek and its board of directors. Milan Panic is chairman and chief executive officer of Viratek.
 Roger Guillemin, M.D., Ph.D., "Distinguished Scientist," The Whittier Institute for Diabetes and Endocrinology, La Jolla, a Nobel Laureate and a member of the board of directors of Viratek, is chairman of the company's board of scientific advisors. Other members of the scientific advisory board are Roberts A. Smith, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biochemistry at UCLA; Weldon Jolley, Ph.D., chairman of the former ICN Nucleic Acid Research Institute; Ronald J. Barr, M.D., professor of dermatology and pathology, University of California-Irvine; and Gordon N. Gill, M.D., professor of medicine, University of California-San Diego.
 In addition to Guillemin and Panic, other members of the Viratek board of directors are Smith; Robert H. Finch, Esq., former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare; Vernon Knight, M.D., professor of medicine and co-director of the Center for Biotechnology at Baylor College of Medicine; and Adam Jerney, president of SPI Pharmaceuticals.
 Viratek Inc. specializes in the development and licensing of new pharmaceutical compounds from nucleic acid research, as well as the development of new biomedical products.
 -0- 7/20/93
 /CONTACT: Jack Sholl of Viratek, 714-545-0100, ext. 3013/
 (VRA)


CO: Viratek Inc. ST: California IN: MTC SU:

MF-JL -- LA007 -- 6602 07/20/93 09:04 EDT
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Date:Jul 20, 1993
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