New Weaponry Against Melanoma

Newspaper readers are familiar with reports of the fearsome rise in the incidence of skin cancer in this country. But they are probably unaware of tiny Medicis Pharmaceutical, which hopes to market new drugs to combat the disease. Medicis has caught the attention of big investors, as well as Deprenyl Research, a Canadian drugmaker that has acquired a 10% stake.

Deprenyl formed a joint venture with Medicis early this year. Medicis will produce Deprenyl's patented product, 5-Aminolevulinic Acid (5-ALA), an antimelanoma treatment that will start clinical trials in January. The plan is to submit it for Food & Drug Administration approval in 1993.

Another vote of confidence: A 5% stake has been snapped up by DR Capital, an investor group headed by money manager Joseph Cohen, whose family owns the Duane Reade drugstore chain in New York City. "Medicis has a big future in the search for skin-cancer treatments," says Cohen. He notes that the company's management is headed by Chairman Jonah Shacknai, who is also chairman of the nonprofit National Research Institute for Neural Injury and a director of drugmaker U. S. Bioscience.

Shacknai thinks Medicis has its own promising drug in Bergasol. The company's studies show that topical application of Bergasol on skin that has been exposed to solar radiation reduces abnormalities that can produce melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. Now being sold in Europe, the drug will be submitted for FDA approval within six months. Medicis shares are at 2 5/16, up from 1 1/2 in July. Some pros think the stock will double over the next year.

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