By Jim Shrine

Senior Staff Writer

Triangle Pharmaceuticals Inc., a young company focused on antivirals, raised $48 million from the private placement of 4.8 million shares at $10 apiece.

Proceeds from the offering will allow the Durham, N.C., firm to continue its strategy of taking multiple products through the clinic simultaneously while retaining U.S. rights.

"There's a lot of room for improvement in the HIV area," Carolyn Underwood, Triangle's vice president of commercial operations, told BioWorld Today. Some regimens require patients' taking as many as 30 pills per day, and Triangle intends to develop drugs with fewer side effects and improved resistance profiles. The company has raised about $200 million since its founding in July 1995.

Before the financing, Triangle reported about $73.2 million in cash, and about 24 million shares outstanding.

The company has six products in clinical development, five of which target HIV and/or hepatitis B. Five pivotal trials are planned for the lead product, MKC-442, a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor targeting HIV. Enrollment has completed in two of studies, each involving combination therapies. Three others are planned, including one involving a computer system that recommends the best agents to combine with MKC-442 based on genotype analysis.

John Sonnier, an analyst at Vector Securities International Inc., in Deerfield, Ill., which served as placement agent in the financing, said he anticipates a new drug application for MKC-442 being filed in September or October of next year, with approval following later in the year or early in 2000.

"They've made a lot of progress with that drug," Sonnier said.

The HIV market is an "interesting" one, he added. "In most business models and [in the] market, the idea is to go after first-line therapy. In HIV, the 'switch-to' market is the larger market. There is room for improved drugs."

Sonnier said Triangle has an easier time than some other companies raising money, because of its executives' track record. Most of the senior management team came from Burroughs Wellcome Co., the former Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based arm of London-based Wellcome plc (which later merged with Glaxo plc, also of London). Triangle officials were involved in developing the blockbuster antiviral drugs AZT for HIV, and acyclovir for herpes.

Triangle's second product is FTC, which has shown activity against both HIV and hepatitis B. Pivotal trials are under way in combination with other antiretroviral drugs for HIV, and dose-ranging studies are ongoing for hepatitis B. Three other products are in earlier studies and a fourth is expected to go into the clinic next year.

"It's always been our plan to take a 'portfolio' approach to our company - that is, to move all our products along," Underwood said. "We like for the data to determine whether we stop work on a compound, rather than stop because of limited funding. We want to have the money available to do that."

Triangle posted a net loss of $46.3 million for the first three quarters of the year, and had no revenues to offset the spending. The company, however, plans to form partnerships only for markets outside the U.S.

"If all these products continue to move through the clinic, we will need more money at some point," Underwood said. "We have to wait and see."

In the latest financing, stock was sold to institutional and other accredited investors, and discounted 10 to 15 percent to the share price when the deal was being negotiated. Triangle's stock (NASDAQ:VIRS) closed Tuesday at $11.75, down $0.187. n