Washington Editor

A Canadian cancer company, OncoGenex Technologies Inc., brought in $12.8 million in an oversubscribed third financing round that it attributed to speed.

"We've got a relatively short history of existence - the company was incorporated in 2000, and we got our first real money in 2001," OncoGenex President and CEO Scott Cormack told BioWorld Today. "We've pushed very quickly to have multiple Phase IIs ongoing right now, on time and under budget."

He also said the firm's efficiency "has allowed us go through very little capital from inception to now."

The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company, which has raised about $27.3 million to date, said the latest funding would sustain operations into 2008. The placement involves equity of the same class and with the same rights as that sold two years ago for $11.5 million, but at a different pricing.

The proceeds will be used to further develop its lead compound, OGX-011, which is in clinical studies for multiple cancer indications, and to advance its second product candidate, OGX-427, into the clinic. Both are antisense compounds designed to overcome treatment resistance.

OGX-011 inhibits production of clusterin, a cellular stress protein associated with resistance to standard cancer therapies. Two Phase II trials are ongoing in prostate and non-small-cell lung cancers, and later this year OncoGenex expects to begin two additional Phase II studies in prostate and breast cancers. Also, a fifth Phase II trial in an undisclosed cancer setting is being contemplated. Data from all the studies - to be paid for by the latest funding - will emerge in about a year and a half to two years.

Those trials follow a Phase I study in prostate cancer patients that showed that once-weekly dosing of OGX-011 produced a greater than 90 percent reduction in clusterin expression in prostate cancer cells and enhanced apoptosis associated with hormone ablation therapy. Another Phase I trial in lymph nodes produced a 98 percent reduction.

"One of the big issues in developing targeted therapeutics is getting the drugs to a solid tumor mass, and whether they are powerful enough to regulate the target of interest," Cormack said. "We know we can get our drug to the target and regulate the target, so it's really almost a Phase III question: Is our target sufficiently important for clinical outcome?"

Down the road, the company envisions a deal with a commercial development partner to carry OGX-011 forward to market. The product was identified as part of a cost- and revenue-sharing collaboration with Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. that began four years ago, and Cormack noted that OncoGenex has since contributed more money, so it would be due more of a return. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 27, 2001.)

"That contemplates bringing in a larger partner for subsequent commercialization, and probably even late-stage development," he added.

OGX-427 inhibits the production of Hsp27, a small heat-shock protein that is overexpressed in numerous tumor types and is associated with treatment resistance through its ability to help cancer cells survive stress-induced injury. It also is being developed with Isis technology, though OncoGenex is solely responsible for its development and commercialization. Earlier this year, OncoGenex in-licensed Hsp27 patents from the Prostate Center at Vancouver General Hospital for the compound's development. (See BioWorld Today, April 27, 2005.)

In preclinical single-agent studies, OGX-427 has demonstrated antitumor activity at very low concentrations, and its combination with chemotherapy in preclinical prostate cancer studies enhanced the chemotherapeutic agent's antitumor activity. OncoGenex expects to begin OGX-427's clinical development next year.

The company also is developing a third antisense compound, OGX-225, which also employs technology from Carlsbad, Calif.-based Isis. Preclinical research has shown that it targets the productions of both insulin-like growth factor binding protein-2 and insulin-like growth factor binding protein-5.

Originally envisioned as an inside round, the private equity financing included venture capital participation from a number of existing investors such as Ventures West in Vancouver; H.I.G. Ventures, of Miami; the Working Opportunity Fund managed by GrowthWorks Capital in Vancouver; and the Calgary, Alberta-based branch of the Business Development Bank of Canada. New investors included WHI Morula Fund LLC, managed by William Harris Investors in Chicago, and BC Advantage Funds, of Vancouver.

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