With $98.1 million in cash and securities available at the end of the first quarter, MediciNova Inc. is looking to reduce its burn rate by focusing on a few key products and partnering or finding project financing for the rest.

"If we had $200 million or $300 million, we'd love to run all the trials because we're confident about every single one," said Shintaro Asako, chief financial officer with MediciNova. The San Diego-based company spent $17.5 million to run its 10 programs during the first quarter. Asako declined to specify exactly how much money the changes will save, but said he expects to provide a new budget before the second-quarter filing.

Moving forward, MediciNova's efforts will focus on the Phase IIa acute asthma drug MN-221 and the Phase II multiple sclerosis drug MN-166.

MN-221 is a beta 2-adrenergic receptor agonist licensed from Nagano, Japan-based Kissei Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. The drug's intravenous administration is important to status asthmaticus patients, who may be unable to use an inhaler due to the severity of their acute asthma. Data from a Phase IIa dose-ranging study in regular asthmatic patients are expected in the fourth quarter, and a Phase IIb trial in the acute setting is slated to kick off early next year.

Asako said MN-221 was selected as a lead compound primarily because of its relatively low development cost and suitability for marketing with an internal, niche sales force targeting emergency physicians.

MN-166, MediciNova's other newly designated lead program, is an oral inhibitor of leukotrienes, phosphodiesterases and nitric oxide synthase licensed from Tokyo-based Kyorin Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. In March, a one-year efficacy analysis from a two-year Phase II trial showed the drug failed to meet its primary endpoint of reducing lesions in MRI scans.

Yet Asako pointed to statistically significant increases in clinical endpoints such as the proportion of patients remaining relapse-free and the time to first relapse. He added that the only side effects associated with MN-166 were gastrointestinal and were mild compared to those associated with competing oral MS drugs in development, such as Novartis AG's FTY720 (fingolimod), Biogen Idec Inc.'s BG-12, and Active Biotech AB and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.'s laquinimod. (See BioWorld Today, March 28, 2007.)

Full Phase II data for MN-166 are expected around March 2008. While the Phase II trial uses thrice-daily dosing, MediciNova plans to have a once-daily formulation ready for Phase III trials. Asako said the company is "talking to potential partners" about MN-166 but also is considering running the Phase III trial and marketing the drug through a niche sales force.

Some investors may have been surprised that MediciNova did not choose to move forward with the Phase III asthma drug MN-001. Licensed from Kyorin, the drug blocks inflammatory mechanisms activated by mast cell degranulation. Asako explained that with once-daily drugs like Singulair (montelukast, Merck & Co. Inc.) "dominating the market," it made sense to stop the ongoing Phase III trial with thrice-daily MN-001 and create a once-daily formulation. When the formulation work is complete around the middle of next year, MediciNova plans to seek a partner.

Also available for licensing is the MN-001 program in interstitial cystitis. A Phase II/III trial completed earlier this year failed to meet its primary endpoint, which Asako said likely is attributable to the dose not being strong enough.

Another program potentially up for grabs is MN-305, a full serotonin 5-HT1A receptor agonist licensed from Osaka, Japan-based Mitsubishi Pharma Corp. MediciNova plans to complete a Phase II insomnia trial started earlier this year and then find a partner for subsequent trials. The drug also has been studied in anxiety, although a Phase II/III trial failed to meet its primary endpoint last year.

MN-029, a vascular-targeting agent for cancer licensed from Oxford, UK-based Angiogene Pharmaceuticals Ltd., and MN-246, a beta 3-adrenergic receptor agonist for urinary incontinence licensed from Mitsubishi, also will be partnered or supported with project financing. MN-029 is poised to begin Phase II/III trials, while MN-246 is in Phase I.

Although MN-221 and MN-166 are taking center stage, MediciNova plans to hold onto a few early stage programs. Among them are the preclinical thrombosis drugs MN-447 and MN-462, both of which were licensed from Tokyo-based Meiji Seika Kaisha Ltd. late last year. MediciNova also is keeping a Phase Ib program with MN-221 in preterm labor, although aggressive development will be postponed until after the drug is approved in status asthmaticus.

MediciNova, which was spun out of Osaka-based Tanabe Seiyaku Ltd., saw its stock (NASDAQ:MNOV) fall 25 cents Tuesday to close at $8.35.