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In every family there’s one tattletale child. That’s the child who runs to Mom or Dad to break up fights or report when a sibling is disobeying some house rule. The Securities and Exchange Commission now finds itself in the role of a harried but understanding parent, investigating both sides of a hair-pulling fight at the behest of litigious Viragen Inc. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area company — ever-determined to protect its share price and public image from naysayers — said last Thursday that it had filed complaints with the commission about detractors who posted negative comments about the company on Internet message boards. Although disgruntled online posters can be found on nearly every message board for nearly every company, not all companies take the negative messages as seriously as Viragen, which is trying to attract positive Wall Street attention and refuses to tolerate negative comments. The SEC complaint announcement came after the company dropped a lawsuit against Pershing Corp., a division of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. Last summer, Viragen sued Pershing for spreading unspecified “false information.” In the settlement, Pershing agreed to reimburse Viragen for legal fees related to the lawsuit and will respond to requests for documents in pending court proceedings, said Viragen spokesman Doug Calder. But Pershing wasn’t the only entity the Plantation, Fla.-based pharmaceuticals manufacturer accused of badmouthing. Earlier this year, the company sued its former employee Steve Sanders on charges that Sanders posted disparaging comments about Viragen on Ragingbull.com, an investor Web site. Then former shareholder Walter Smith — who sued Viragen in 1997 for securities fraud — and former director Richard Lueck scored on the company’s wrath-o-meter. Ouch. Calder declined to comment on any of the ongoing cases. The company hasn’t attracted any Wall Street analyst attention. Despite that, it does have some institutional holders, including Barclays Bank PLC, and SunTrust Banks Inc. And in June, the company announced plans to sell 107,729 shares of its common stock to New York investment firm Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. Inc. for $111,111. In the deal, Ladenburg Thalmann also received a three-year warrant to buy 7,541 shares of Viragen stock at an exercise price of $1.33 each. The holders — none of whom is selling shares now — seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, watching for Viragen’s next move. Which might be actually bringing a first product to market. Viragen is trying to finish testing and get Food and Drug Administration approval for its magic-bullet drug, Omniferon. The drug is expected to treat hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and cancer, among other illnesses. Omniferon, which uses white blood cells as its raw material, is in clinical trial in Europe for hepatitis C, and clinical trials for multiple sclerosis and genital herpes are expected later in the year. Viragen made a deal in 1998 with the American Red Cross to provide the white blood cells. Still, the company takes forward strides in its quest for respectability. Viragen is most famously playing up its association with the avian transgenic production technology — drugs created inside the eggs of genetically enhanced chickens — of the Roslin Institute in Scotland. The Roslin Institute is the organization that made sci-fi into reality with Dolly, the cloned sheep. On July 12, Viragen signed a letter of intent to purchase BioNative AB, a Swedish biotechnology company. BioNative produces an Omniferon-like drug that has already been approved by the Swedish government to treat two types of leukemia. It’s also won approval from the National Institutes of Health to market the use of a “Mission Impossible” antibody that will cause cancer cells to self-destruct. For the quarter ended March 31, the company reported net losses of $2.7 million, compared with losses of $3.65 million for the same period a year earlier.

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