National Editor

Biomira Inc. joined the legion of companies trimming staff and expenditures to focus on pushing products to market, cutting 30 percent of its staff for the sake of advancing a pair of cancer vaccines.

"We eliminated 51 positions, and 50 percent of those are in discovery research," said Bill Wickson, manager of public relations for Edmonton, Alberta-based Biomira.

"They were doing preclinical work," he added. "We kept the research and development section, but they're not focused on discovery research." Another 25 percent of the reductions came from technical operations or service support, and another 25 percent in finance and administration.

Wall Street seemed to like the news. Biomira's stock (NASDAQ:BIOM) closed Friday at 70 cents, up 4.5 cents.

The move will ensure the company has about two years of cash for operations at the end of 2002, with a goal of getting well past the final analysis of Phase III data for one of the products: Theratope cancer vaccine, for which complete data are expected in mid-2003.

"We'd originally said we would open the data for the final analysis toward the end of 2003," Wickson said.

Last month, the company said Theratope was missing its endpoints of survival and time to disease progression in a 1,030-patient Phase III trial in metastatic breast cancer, but the final analysis will focus on survival alone. But, a data safety monitoring board had no safety concerns. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 20, 2002.)

The other product still to be advanced is Biomira's BLP25 liposomal vaccine, which, like Theratope, is being developed with Merck KgaA, of Darmstadt, Germany. BLP25 is in a Phase IIb study for non-small-cell lung cancer and a Phase II trial in prostate cancer patients.

"The Phase IIb is almost completely enrolled and will be, before the end of this year," Wickson said. Data are expected in mid-2003. "Then we'll make a decision what to do with it," he told BioWorld Today, adding that the drug "will go forward," but the results from the Phase IIb trial will determine whether a Phase III trial will be necessary.

Also in 2003, data are expected from the Phase II prostate cancer trial of BLP25 and from a similar, 20-patient pilot trial of Theratope in colorectal cancer.

Biomira and Merck also have begun enrolling patients in a 95-patient Phase II trial of Theratope vaccine in women with metastatic breast cancer who are being treated with aromatase inhibitors or Faslodex (fulvestrant). That trial will complete "sometime in 2003, but that depends on how enrollment goes," Wickson said.

Late last year, Biomira let go 22 employees and dropped an autologous vaccine program that was in Phase I. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 30, 2001.)