Oncotech Signs Deal to Market Cancer Medicine : * Health: Early tests show positive results for drug whose patent is held by Denver firm.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oncotech Inc., a small Irvine laboratory that tests drug therapies on malignant tissues, said Thursday that it has signed an agreement with a Denver company that could lead to a lucrative marketing of a new cancer-fighting medication.

The Colorado firm, Air Methods Corp., holds the patent for ImuVert, a drug that in preliminary tests has indicated positive results in the treatment of breast, lung and blood cancers.

Air Methods, which provides helicopters and airplanes to hospitals, acquired the ImuVert patent after a merger last year with Cell Technology Inc.--the biotechnology firm that developed the drug in 1984.

Cell Technology worked with Oncotech for two years before the merger, conducting in-vitro research on the drug.

The new contract with Air Methods gives Oncotech exclusive rights to test and market the drug. If the drug is approved for sale by the U.S Food and Drug Administration, Oncotech will pay Air Methods a percentage of the profits.

"Our preliminary research makes us optimistic that the drug will be useful in the treatment of certain types of cancer," said Frank Kiesner, president and CEO of Oncotech.

Oncotech specializes in testing FDA-approved drugs on tumor biopsies submitted by doctors seeking the most effective treatment for individual cancer patients.

The firm also collects tissue samples to use for testing unpatented drugs.

Should the FDA eventually approve ImuVert for commercial use, Oncotech stands to reap large profits.

But with the extensive testing on the human population required for new drugs, the payoff may be long in coming, Kiesner said: "It could take three to four years (to win marketing approval), in a best-case scenario."

Oncotech Inc.

Founded in 1985, Oncotech Inc. is a privately held biotechnology firm that tests tissue samples of malignant tumors to determine possible drug treatments. It also tests the effectiveness of unpatented drugs for possible approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Headquarters: Irvine

President: Frank Kiesner

Employees: 25

Sales: $3 million in 1991

Earnings: The company has lost $7 million since 1985

Source: Oncotech Inc.

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