Developers of Wellcome plc's blockbuster antiviral drugs said Thursday they raised $18.5 million in a second round of private financing for their new company, Triangle Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The Durham, N.C., company _ founded in July 1995 by inventors and developers of AZT for HIV and acyclovir for herpes _ have licensed rights to six compounds, four of which are targeted at HIV. Triangle in October 1995 raised $3.9 million in its first financing round.

A new investor in the latest round is The Wellcome Trust, of London, which held the largest stake in Wellcome plc when Triangle scientists were working there and before it was acquired last year by Glaxo plc, of London.

"Clearly The Wellcome Trust knows this team very well and has confidence it will be as successful in the antiviral and anticancer areas as we were working as scientists for Wellcome," said Nick Ellis, Triangle's president and chief operating officer.

Another new investor was Goldman, Sachs & Co., of New York, whose investment marked a "significant endorsement of this team," Ellis said. Also participating were Triangle's original investors: Forward Ventures, of San Diego; McFadden Brothers and Venrock Associates, of New York; the London office of Schroder Ventures; and Triangle executives.

Triangle's strategy is to license and develop compounds that have made it through the company's extensive testing criteria, which is designed to eliminate candidates by inducing resistance and otherwise getting the drug to fail in preclinical testing. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 4, 1995, p. 1.)

Treatment of HIV and AIDS is going to require multiple drugs and regimens to reduce resistance, and Triangle officials want their drugs to be part of the mix. The lead candidate is MCK-442, the first drug from the class of non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors to be discovered, Ellis said.

Triangle has an option on the compound from Mitsubishi Chemical Co., of Tokyo. Phase I trials assessing safety and tolerability of MCK-442 are ongoing in Berlin.

Also in Triangle's HIV pipeline are the compounds FTC, DAPD and CS-92, which were licensed from Emory University, in Atlanta, and from Emory and the University of Georgia, in Athens. Triangle also has licensed two topical compounds developed by Karl Hostetler, a professor at the University of California at San Diego. One, ACVMP, will be developed for herpes; the other, 2-CdAP, is targeted for psoriasis.

Ellis said the next Triangle product to enter the clinic likely will be a compound for lung cancer for which the company currently is negotiating a license.

He said the $18.5 million financing should allow Triangle to continue full development of its compounds well into 1997. Triangle is considering an initial public offering of stock this fall or early next year, he said.

At Wellcome the Triangle scientists' expertise was in nucleoside drugs, which interfere with the production of nucleic acid. The compounds at Triangle work in much the same way, Ellis said. Four of the six drugs have been in humans, he said, "and we know a lot about them or compounds closely related to them."

Leading the effort at Triangle is Chairman and CEO David Barry, who was at Wellcome for 18 years. While at Wellcome Barry and others _ including Triangle's vice president of research and chief scientific officer, Phillip Furman, and vice president of drug development, Sandra Nusinoff Lehrman _ moved AZT from the test tube to FDA approval in two years, four months. Barry also led the development of acyclovir (Zovirax) for herpes. Those two drugs were the main pieces in Wellcome's $1.6 billion antivirals business. n

-- Jim Shrine Staff Writer

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