New Drug Ushers in Brighter Days for ICN

Times Staff Writer

Times were when the annual meetings of ICN Pharmaceuticals Inc. were dominated by grumblings from bitter shareholders and nasty proxy fights as a result of the drug maker's steep decline. But not anymore.

In its first annual meeting since moving last December to Costa Mesa from Covina, ICN executives had a fair share of good news to offer stockholders Wednesday, most of it centering on Virazole, the anti-viral drug the company said could turn it from a small and somewhat profitable pharmaceutical house into a major force in the drug industry.

Although the drug already has been identified as a potential treatment for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), Virazole is much closer to reaching the U.S. market as a treatment for a deadly infant respiratory condition.

Milan Panic, ICN's chairman, president and chief executive, said at Wednesday's meeting that the company is on the verge of securing final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market Virazole, a brand name for ribavirin, for respiratory syncytial virus which affects children under 5. Approval, company officials indicated, is expected within two months.

Testing on Herpes Victism

As soon as the approval comes, Panic said, the company expects to ask the FDA to approve the drug to treat flu victims. Furthermore, Panic reported that researchers at Harvard University are testing the drug on victims of genital herpes.

Earlier this month, the company announced that human testing of Virazole on AIDS victims had begun at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. The company announced Thursday that a second test was under way in Paris. Both research projects are too new for conclusive results.

Panic also reluctantly confirmed that Abbott Laboratories Inc., the giant Chicago pharmaceutical company, had approached ICN in search of marketing rights for Virazole. But Panic cautioned that the discussions with Abbott were "very preliminary" and had not yet yielded anything that could be reported.

"But it does give us a good feeling that Abbott is interested in your little company," Panic told shareholders.

Later the chairman said that ICN would be interested in linking up with Abbott because its size, distribution networks and revenues of $2.9 billion could assure better penetration of the market than ICN, with revenues of $44.8 million last year, could get on its own.

In other good news for shareholders, ICN announced a 2-for-1 stock split for shareholders in its SPI Pharmaceuticals Inc. subsidiary. In addition, SPI's annual dividend was increased from 5 cents to 6 cents per share. As the owner of 88% of SPI's stock, ICN was the biggest beneficiary of the news.

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