BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Ark Therapeutics Group Ltd. has confirmed plans for an initial public offering to raise £55 million (US$104.7 million), a move that will be followed closely by those at cash-starved companies across Europe who are waiting for the IPO window to open.

The London-based gene therapy and vascular disease company is pricing its shares between £1.20 and £1.46, giving a market capitalization of £110 million to £135 million.

The money will be invested in development of three lead products, building manufacturing capacity and for commercialization efforts. All products were developed in-house, and the company's strategy is to select programs it can afford to take through development with its own resources. That has enabled Ark to retain full marketing rights and reduce the risks of depending on one product or partners.

Ark does have one product on the market: Kerraboot, a dressing for leg and foot ulcers.

"Each of the products represents an attractive marketing opportunity, and, having retained the rights to market all our lead products in the key North American and European markets, we believe Ark is well placed to succeed," said Nigel Parker, CEO.

In development is Cerepro, a gene-based therapy for the treatment of glioma, which has orphan drug status in the U.S. and Europe. In two trials, Cerepro almost doubled the mean survival time, compared to existing treatments. Ark expects to file for European approval before the end of 2007.

It also has Vitor, an oral therapy for cancer cachexia, in Phase III trials. European filing is expected in 2005.

Trinam, a biodegradable gene-delivery device, has FDA approval to enter Phase II/III trials in preventing blockage in plastic tubes implanted in the arms of patients with kidney failure. The company said it has other applications, as well.

The follow-on portfolio includes a product in Phase II for the treatment of lipodystrophy (a fat metabolism disorder), which can occur in HIV-positive patients receiving antiretroviral therapy.

Ark had filed after taking soundings with institutional investors and said growing revenues from Kerraboot, the late-stage aspect of its three lead products, and the policy of retaining value and control strengthen its case as the first biotech to IPO in London in more than three years.

The lead adviser is Credit Suisse First Boston, backed by Nomura International, which owns 15 percent of Ark. The company's largest shareholder is Merlin Biosciences, with a 22 percent stake.