Cancer drug company Cougar Biotechnology Inc. added $50 million in private funding for ongoing development of its three drug candidates, including one for prostate cancer expected to enter Phase III within the next year.

The firm agreed to sell 2.5 million shares of its common stock in a private placement priced at $20 per share. The offering is expected to close May 8. Leerink Swann & Co. served as sole placement agent.

Proceeds from the offering, based on analyst reports, should "get us out several years," said Alan Auerbach, president and CEO of Cougar, a company that focuses on in-licensing clinical-stage oncology products for further development. Its lead program, CB7630, is finishing up two Phase II studies: one study evaluating the drug as a single-agent in hormone-refractory prostate cancer patients who have not received chemotherapy and another study testing the drug as a single agent in patients who previously received chemotherapy.

"Thus far, we've seen very strong evidence" of the drug's efficacy, Auerbach told BioWorld Today. Phase I and Phase II data presented last month at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Los Angeles showed that CB7630 (abiraterone acetate), a targeted inhibitor of the 17-alpha hydroxylase/c17,20 lyase enzyme, was able to inhibit androgen synthesis, resulting in a high response rate in castration-refractory prostate cancer. Of the 30 evaluable patients, 18 experienced confirmed declines in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels of greater than 50 percent.

Pending positive Phase II results, Cougar anticipates "looking to initiate a Phase III trial in late 2007 or early 2008," Auerbach said, adding that advancing CB7630 is "really our primary focus."

Beyond that product, the company has two earlier-stage programs. CB3304, an inhibitor of microtubule dynamics, is getting ready to start a Phase I/II trial in multiple myeloma, and CB1089, a vitamin D analogue, is expected to begin Phase I testing later this year. CB1089, which Cougar licensed from Danish firm LEO Pharma A/S in June 2005, is in development for prostate cancer. (See BioWorld Today, June 29, 2005.)

Though Cougar continues to look at additional in-licensing opportunities, "right now, we're highly focused on our existing pipeline," Auerbach said. The company's goal is to retain all rights to its compounds for as long as possible. Though it could opt down the road to seek commercialization partners, "it's really too early to make that decision.

"Obviously, the longer we wait to do any type of transaction," he added, "the more value we create for shareholders."

Cougar is staffed by 16 employees and "is growing very rapidly," Auerbach said, with most of the company's in-house work devoted to clinical and regulatory activities.

Since its founding in 2003, the Los Angeles-based firm has raised more than $100 million. Its last round came in April 2006 when it brought in $47.5 million and completed a reverse merger with nonoperating public shell company SRKP 4 Inc. Earlier this year, Cougar gained a public listing on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board under the ticker "CGRB." Shares closed Thursday at $22.10, up 85 cents. (See BioWorld Today, April 10, 2006.)

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