West Coast Editor

A week after making known its plan for an initial public offering, the Italian firm Newron Pharmaceuticals SpA launched the IPO and listing on the Swiss Stock Exchange, aiming to sell up to about 2.1 million shares and raise as much as CHF349 million (US$289 million).

News of the IPO, with a price range between CHF45 and CHF60, came just as Newron kicked off the second Phase III study with safinamide in patients with mid-to-late stage Parkinson's disease causing motor fluctuations. In October, Serono SA - just ahead of its merger with Merck KgaA - bought rights to safinamide in a transaction valued as high as $200 million. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 17, 2006.)

Safinamide, also in Phase II trials for restless leg syndrome (RLS), inhibits dopamine uptake and provides reversible blocking of monoamine oxidase-B, without an MAO-A effect, along with sodium channel blocking activity and calcium channel modulation. The sodium blockade affects only those neurons with abnormal firing patterns, leaving normal activity unaffected.

Newton, based in Bresso, Italy, near Milan, gained rights to safinamide when the firm was formed through a management buyout in 1999 of a research center owned by Pharmacia & Upjohn (now part of New York-based Pfizer Inc.). Darmstadt, Germany-based Merck unveiled plans for a CHF16.6 billion cash takeover of the Swiss firm in September. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 22, 2006.)

Merck halted development of its own Parkinson's drug, the serotonin receptor agonist Sarizotan, in June, after the compound failed to show efficacy in two Phase III trials in more than 1,000 patients with disabling dyskinesia.

Also in June, another firm working in the RLS space made news. Santa Clara, Calif.-based XenoPort Inc. priced a public offering of 4.5 million shares at $17 per share to raise $76.5 million for the lead product XP13512.

XenoPort deploys specific transporter proteins as molecular "targets," and uses medicinal chemistry techniques to transform drugs into substrates for the transporters. XP13512, described as a Transported Prodrug of gabapentin, a generic compound used mainly against neuropathic pain. (See BioWorld Today, June 23, 2006.)

Bookbuilding for Newron's IPO started Monday, and the firm expects to finish Dec. 7 the process of determining market interest. Officials then will decide the exact share price, and the IPO includes an overallotment option that could place 322,141 more shares within 30 days of Dec. 12, which is when the stock would begin trading on the Swiss exchange under the symbol "NWRN."

The IPO consists of a Swiss public offering plus an offering to institutional investors outside that country, and Newron intends to spend the proceeds on clinical research, as well as licensing or acquiring new products, along with other general corporate purposes.

Further back in the pipeline, the company has ralfinamide (NW-1029) in Phase II trials for neuropathic pain. The sodium channel blocker is a member of the alpha-aminoamide family, and Newron scientists discovered the compound through its own research. In September, the firm disclosed positive preclinical results with ralfinamide against spontaneous, chronic pain.

Lehman Brothers International in Europe and Morgan Stanley & Co. International Ltd. are serving as joint global coordinators and joint bookrunners for the IPO, with Bank Vontobel and Sal. Oppenheim acting as co-lead managers. Newron, its shareholders and management have agreed to certain lockups ranging from nine months to 12 months as part of the deal.