By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Biomira Inc. stopped development of two early stage products in favor of directing full-time attention to two other late-stage cancer vaccines being developed in conjunction with Merck KGaA, of Darmstadt, Germany.

The move means the loss of 22 research and development jobs located in both the Cranbury, N.J., office and the main headquarters in Edmonton, Alberta. The company had 185 employees.

Development has ended on the autologous vaccine, a Phase I product, and Liposomal Interleukin-2 (L-IL-2), currently in Phase II. The focus will be on Theratope, for metastatic breast cancer, and BLP25, for lung and prostate cancer.

¿Basically, I think the critical point is that we are removing expenditures from earlier-stage products so that we can more aggressively pursue, with Merck, the later-stage products,¿ Alex McPherson, Biomira¿s president and CEO, told BioWorld Today. ¿We are currently in discussions with several other companies as to the possibility of out-licensing the early stage products.¿

As of Sept. 30, Biomira had about C$91.2 million (US$57.6 million) in cash and equivalents with an approximate burn rate of C$40 million per year. Included in that figure is a US$15 million private financing of convertible debentures and warrants to boost development that closed in the third quarter. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 2, 2001.)

The 10 or so patients enrolled in Phase I trials of the autologous vaccine for B-cell lymphoma will continue to receive therapy as appropriate, Bill Wickson, Biomira¿s public relations manager, told BioWorld Today. Although the company had selected trial sites and had received clearance to conduct Phase II trials of L-IL-2, patients had not been enrolled.

Meanwhile, Biomira and Merck have completed enrollment in the 1,030-patient Phase III study of Theratope in women suffering from metastatic breast cancer. McPherson said Theratope stimulates the immune response to the synthetic mimic, which cross-reacts with the normally occurring antigen on the breast cancer cell.

¿Theratope is an adjunctive therapy that works in association with the current primary treatments for cancer, which are surgery, radiation, hormones and chemotherapy,¿ McPherson said. ¿Currently, we are using it in our trials to try to consolidate remissions that are induced by chemotherapy and prolonged survival, which at the end of the day is what patients are primarily interested in.¿

The companies should begin looking at data from the Phase III trial in the third quarter next year. Theratope also is in early stage tests for colon cancer, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer.

The BLP25 vaccine is in Phase IIb studies for lung cancer and Phase I studies for prostate cancer.

Biomira and Merck entered a deal potentially worth US$150 million to develop Theratope and BLP25. The companies will jointly market the products in the U.S., while Merck retains rights in the remainder of the world with the exception of Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy Area. (See BioWorld Today, May 4, 2001.)

Biomira¿s stock (NASDAQ:BIOM) lost 19 cents Thursday to close at $4.01.