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Scios Inc. targets drug giants in arthritis war

Scios Inc. , a small California biotechnology company, is racing giant rivals to bring a pill to market that would displace injectable anti-inflammatory drugs and set a new standard in arthritis treatment. Scios' ambitions are much larger than its market capitalization of a little more than $1 billion. That's because the first company to commercialize an oral version of today's dominant injectable drugs could gain the lion's share of a market. //

Scios' drug has shown promise in early trials. But the size of the potential market makes it a prize that many big pharmaceuticals companies also covet. So far, Scios' prospects look good. The company's pill appears to inhibit an enzyme, known as the p38 kinase, which provokes inflammation.

Scios' lead comes in part because an earlier trailblazer, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. , was forced to drop back after its lead p38 kinase inhibitor showed toxicity in high doses in some animals. There are also many competitors. They include drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, which first isolated the p38 kinase in the early 1990s. Glaxo's drug is in early stage clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome. Other rivals include Merck and Co. Inc. , Roche Holding Ltd. , Johnson and Johnson, and Amgen Inc.

Scion Inc. has completed trials in healthy humans and is now planning to test the drug in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Most rivals have yet to reach this stage.

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