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Virco: Study Reveals Mechanism of Non-Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancers (Business Wire)A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine has provided unexpected new evidence of a mechanism for non-hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. In the study, the hypermethylation of the BRCA1 gene was found to `turn off` gene expression and resulted in a breast cancer tumor.- Feb 22 11:08 AM ET

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Posted on: 02/22/2001

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Thursday February 22, 11:08 am Eastern Time

Press Release

Virco: Study Reveals Mechanism of Non-Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancers

BALTIMORE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 22, 2001--A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine has provided unexpected new evidence of a mechanism for non-hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. In the study, the hypermethylation of the BRCA1 gene was found to 'turn off' gene expression and resulted in a breast cancer tumor. The international pharmacogenomics group Virco holds the patent on the diagnostic use of methylation and is working on the development of tests based on this process for use in a number of cancers.

The study, titled "Gene Expression Profiles in Hereditary Breast Cancer," was headed by National Institutes of Health (NIH) human genome scientists at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center. It was set-up to investigate the mutations in the gene BRCA1 that can 'switch-off' its tumor suppression effects, commonly leading to the development of cancer. These mutations can be inherited and cause 'familial cancer.'

In the study, researchers unexpectedly discovered one breast cancer tumor typically associated with BRCA1 mutation that was found not to be mutated, but rather hypermethylated (the addition of excess methyl groups to the gene). Normal methylation allows the gene to function but when the gene is hypermethylated, it turns off the tumor-suppressing activities, enabling the development of cancer. The case provided the most complete evidence to date of BRCA1 hypermethylation turning off gene expression and resulting in a breast cancer tumor. Unlike mutation, hypermethylation cannot be inherited.

Approximately 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers and 15 to 20 percent of ovarian cancers may be associated with hypermethylation. Moreover, this alteration appears to occur in the most common, non-hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancers rather than the more rare familial cancers typically associated with the BRCA1 gene.

Virco holds the patent for any diagnostic test or service based on methylation. A test that would allow physicians to differentiate between those tumors resulting from inherited BRCA1 mutations and those caused by non-inherited abnormal methylation of the gene is in development.

"These are unexpected and interesting results," commented Brendan Larder PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at Virco. "It appears that the use of methylation as a diagnostic tool may have application in a number of cancers. However, there is a great deal of development work remaining."

Breast and ovarian cancers affect more than 200,000 American women annually and cause additional 60,000 deaths. Experts say the majority of these cancers, nearly 80 percent, are not the result of an inherited predisposition.

Virco is already in the process of developing a test for hypermethylation of the MGMT gene in brain tumour (glioma) patients. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last November showed that brain tumor patients who tested positive for hypermethylation were 16 times more likely to respond to treatment with the most common form of chemotherapy. They were also ten times less likely to die during the three years of follow-up than were those who tested negative.

Virco background

Virco is an international biotechnology company with facilities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Ireland. It applies advanced technologies in molecular biology, automation, ultra high-throughput screening and electronic data processing to the diagnosis and management of HIV, other infectious diseases and cancer. Virco is the only company to have developed and to provide all three of the current methods of testing HIV drug resistance: genotyping, phenotyping and, through the VirtualPhenotype(TM), a quantitative prediction of phenotypic susceptibility based on the genotype. The Company's Antivirogram® remains the only HIV phenotyping test that has been validated by an independent, prospective, controlled clinical trial as helping physicians select effective drugs and improve their patients' clinical outcome. The Company believes it provides the most sophisticated and comprehensive portfolio of HIV drug resistance monitoring and decision support tools for physicians treating HIV infected patients.

Virco sells its testing services via Quest Diagnostics, Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (LabCorp), SRL in Japan, as well as directly to HIV/AIDS centres in Europe, Canada, Australia and other countries around the world. Virco has a two-year agreement with Gilead Sciences for the promotion of Virco Resistance Monitoring Services to US HIV prescribers by the Gilead sales force. For further information, please visit Virco's website:

In January 2001, Virco and Tibotec Group N.V., a Mechelen, Belgium-based pharmaceutical company, announced that the two holding companies are going to merge.

Tibotec Background

Tibotec is an international group that has established a powerful and effective platform for rapidly discovering and developing superior drugs for unmet medical needs. Tibotec is developing novel anti-HIV drugs that address the serious problems of drug resistance, compliance and side effects. The Company also has a number of early stage research programs that are directed towards other diseases including cancer and tuberculosis. Tibotec was founded in 1994 and has over 150 staff worldwide. The Company has three sites: Mechelen, Belgium; Rockville, Maryland, USA and Dublin, Ireland.

For more information on Tibotec please see the website at

     U.S. Contacts:
     Cooney Waters
     Amanda Crowe, Peter Vigliarolo
     - or -
     Dr. Andrew Revell
     +44 (0)1223 728830 or +44 (0)7969 126498

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