Washington Editor

CancerVax Corp., a young company studying a vaccine for melanoma and colon cancer, on Monday said it raised $55 million in its second round of financing through the private placement of preferred stock.

This round follows the initial financing last year in which the Carlsbad, Calif.-based company raised $30 million. At that time, David Hale, CancerVax’s president and CEO, told BioWorld Today that proceeds would help pay for ongoing Phase III trials of its therapeutic cancer vaccine, Canvaxin, and help build a manufacturing facility in Los Angeles. Hale, at the time, expected the money to last little more than a year. (See BioWorld Today, March 7, 2001.)

While company officials would not discuss the financing, a prepared statement released by Hale said funds from the second round will pay for ongoing research related to Canvaxin.

“The funding will help continue the development of our therapeutic cancer vaccine, Canvaxin, for use in the treatment of melanoma, initiate a pivotal trial for Canvaxin in colon cancer, expand our research and development program for new vaccines and monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of cancer, and implement our strategy to build a fully integrated biotechnology company,” Hale’s statement said.

CancerVax was established in the third quarter of 2000 to continue research started at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. The institute had been studying Canvaxin, although still un-named at that point, since the early 1990s and formed CancerVax to develop the product.

The company’s technology is based on the development of allogeneic whole-cell vaccines that express multiple antigens associated with melanoma and solid tumors. When administered to a cancer patient, the vaccine acts to induce both a cellular and humoral immune response to the cancer.

Canvaxin is the subject of two international, multicenter Phase III trials of Stage III and Stage IV melanoma patients.

In December, CancerVax submitted an investigational new drug application to commence Phase II/III trials of Canvaxin in metastatic colon cancer. The multicenter, international, randomized, open-label study will look at overall survival. The 670-patient trial will assess the safety and efficacy of Canvaxin vs. the standard of care in patients with Stage IV colon cancer following surgical resection of the primary tumor and resection of ablation of any known metastases.

New investors in the second round of financing are JP Morgan Fleming Asset Management; WestLB Asset Management; Schroder Ventures Life Sciences, of Boston; CDIB BioScience Ventures; Windamere Venture Partners LLC, of San Diego; GE Capital’s Capital Funding business; Endpoint Late Stage Fund LP, of San Diego; and a group of institutional and private investors.

The largest group was Athenian Venture Partners, of Athens, Ohio, and its associated investors. The group was joined by a majority of the company’s existing institutional and private investors, including Forward Ventures, of San Diego; Vector Fund Management LP, of Chicago; Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc., of San Francisco; China Development Industrial Bank, of Taiwan; and GMG Capital Partners.

In late January, CancerVax completed its acquisition of Cell-Matrix, of Los Angeles, which will be retained as a wholly owned subsidiary of CancerVax. The acquisition was accomplished through a merger with a new, wholly owned subsidiary of CancerVax for a combination of stock and assumption of debt. CancerVax gains access to three lead cancer-related monoclonal antibody products through the merger. Financial terms were not disclosed. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 10, 2002.)

Additionally, CancerVax believes that noncancer indications for the Cell-Matrix technology may include products for the treatment of ophthalmic, autoimmune, cardiovascular and other diseases.