Antigenics Inc. sold rights to a veterinary product to Virbac SA for $14.25 million, shedding a non-core asset and bringing in funds in the face of late-stage clinical trials of its lead oncology product.

"We're essentially harvesting our non-strategic assets," Sunny Uberoi, Antigenics' vice president of corporate communications, told BioWorld Today. "The rationale, in part, relates to our focus on launching Oncophage, as well as strengthening our balance sheet."

Specifically, the New York-based business transferred manufacturing rights to its feline leukemia virus vaccine to Virbac. Uberoi added that the company is negotiating the sale of other non-core assets, though on a smaller scale. But Uberoi said such discussions precluded him from detailing future product sales.

Virbac, a Carros, France-based veterinary pharmaceutical company, has controlled the product's worldwide marketing rights for more than 20 years. With its cash purchase, Virbac acquires all remaining rights, related equipment, intellectual property, regulatory filings and inventories of the vaccine, as well as a manufacturing facility in Framingham, Mass.

Antigenics gained the assets almost four years ago through its purchase of Aquila Biopharmaceuticals Inc. The $40 million all-stock transaction also brought Antigenics QS-21, an immune adjuvant, and GP-120, a therapeutic vaccine for HIV. Last year, sales of the feline vaccine generated $3.5 million. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 22, 2000.)

But clearly, Antigenics' focus lies in human therapeutics.

Its lead product, Oncophage (HSPPC-96), is a personalized cancer vaccine being evaluated in several indications, including Phase III trials for renal-cell carcinoma and metastatic melanoma.

"Essentially, now we are committed for the next two years to commercializing Oncophage," Uberoi said. "For renal-cell carcinoma, we're expecting to have data in early 2005, and our expectation is to file a [biologics license application] with the FDA in mid-2005."

The melanoma trial timeline is slightly behind that. Antigenics does not have a partner for Oncophage, which recently moved into a feasibility study for non-small-cell lung cancer. It also has been evaluated for colorectal, gastric and pancreatic cancers, as well as chronic myelocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The company's pipeline also includes AG-858, another personalized cancer vaccine in Phase II development for chronic myelocytic leukemia. The product also is unpartnered. Antigenics also has Aroplatin, a liposomal chemotherapeutic, and AG-702/AG-707, a Phase I genital herpes program.

The company's development programs come with a price - it reported an $18.3 million net loss for the period ended Dec. 31, at which time Antigenics' cash reserves stood at $89.5 million. Last month it padded the balance sheet by raising $52.5 million through a public offering of 5 million common shares. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 4, 2004.)

On Thursday, Antigenics' stock (NASDAQ:AGEN) gained 15 cents to close at $10.12.