BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON -Antisoma plc raised £26.3 million (US$51.2 million) in a placing to replenish dwindling cash supplies, as negotiations to partner the lead cancer product AS1404 come to fruition.

"It was a difficult decision in terms of timing," Glyn Edwards, CEO, told BioWorld International. "We've got an imminent deal, but less than six month's money. But the nature of these things is it could be tomorrow, or it could be three, four months away, and the investors said they wanted to give us more."

The London-based company placed 73.9 million shares at 35.5 pence per share, nearly a 9 percent discount to the closing price Dec. 14. About 80 percent of the money came from existing investors; one-third from investors based in the U.S.

Edwards promised an "eye-watering" deal for AS1404, a vascular disrupting agent. One of the factors complicating negotiations is that more than one party wants to license it. "As a small company, we can't run parallel negotiations," said Edwards. "For example, we had a team of four working on it in the U.S. yesterday, so they couldn't be anywhere else."

Currently, there is more than one potential partner. "This is creating a nice competitive tension. We've had competition to license compounds before, but not at this level," Edwards said. "Big pharma and speciality companies are very hungry for products."

An irony of this situation is that the compound was rejected by Antisoma's long time regular partner F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland, in June. Roche cited commercial reasons for its decision, as the U.S. composition-of-matter patent expires in 2011.

However, there is the potential to get an extension because the drug is used in combination with chemotherapy.

AS1404 has had positive results in Phase II trials in lung, prostate and ovarian cancer. "When Roche passed on AS1404, a lot of investors took it to mean it didn't work," Edwards said. "Since then, we've produced more and more positive data, sentiment has shifted, and the share price has gone up."

In addition to continuing preparations for a Phase III study of AS1404 in lung cancer, the money will be spent on Phase II trials of AS1411, an aptamer, in renal cancer and acute myelogenous leukemia, and Phase I trials of two antibodies, AS1409 in renal cancer and melanoma, and AS1402 in breast cancer.