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Potential Bird-Flu Fighter Lifts AVI

The company's shares are at a 52-week high.

An investigational

AVI BioPharma


drug appears effective in fighting several strains of influenza, including the avian flu, according to the results from early laboratory studies.

Shares of the Portland, Ore., biopharmaceutical company soared 43% on the announcement. Volume was extremely heavy at almost 15 times the daily average. The shares were recently at $8.45, up $2.56 on the day, and trading through the 52-week high of $6.33. The low for the last year is $2.05.

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Independent cell-culture studies, which are conducted before animal and human trials, showed that a treatment using AVI's Neugene Antisense technologies could be useful against several strains of influenza A.

After mapping the genetic code of the targeted virus, in this case influenza, scientists design treatments that bind to the virus and stop its replication, according to Michael Hubbard, an AVI spokesman. Since the treatment is aimed at a common part of all influenza A strains, Hubbard says, there would be no need to develop a new drug season after season.

Other drugs developed using Neugene technology have been effective in treating SARS, Ebola, West Nile virus and hepatitis C in lab studies.

Based on the latest results, AVI plans to file an investigational new drug application with the Food and Drug Administration for using Neugene to treat influenza A. If it gets approved, AVI plans to undertake human trials.

"We feel confident in the safety, efficacy and potency of our Neugene drugs targeting influenza and plan to move forward into the clinical trial process later this year," said Denis R. Burger, the company's chairman and chief executive, in a press release.

AVI is currently conducting animal studies evaluating Neugene against influenza strains at Tulane University in New Orleans and at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease in Maryland.