By Brady Huggett
Avant Immunotherapeutics Inc., seizing the opportunity presented through a stock gain last week, sold $14 million worth of stock to institutional investors.
The company sold just more than 3 million shares in the placement, using about one-third of the 10 million shares Avant registered with the SEC through a shelf registration in July. Ladenburg Thalmann & Co., of New York, acted as placement agent for the offering.
Avant¿s stock (NASDAQ:AVAN) rose 5 cents Wednesday to close at $4.15.
Avery Catlin, Avant¿s chief financial officer, said the financing sends a good message to those observing the Needham, Mass.-based company.
¿This gives us more than two years of cash, given our expected burn today,¿ he said. ¿It¿s always important for a biotech company for people to see that you can cover two years of cash, and we are happy that we could do that today.¿
The company posted a net loss of about $9.7 million for the first six months of the year, and had about $40.7 million in cash and cash equivalents as of June 30. Catlin said Avant had about 57 million shares outstanding before the placement.
Avant is one of the few companies that has seen its stock benefit from the uneasiness that has settled over the country due to speculation about bioterrorism. Last week, the company disclosed a license agreement with DynPort Vaccine Co. LLC, giving DynPort exclusive rights to use certain components of Avant¿s vaccine technology. DynPort focuses on advancing specific vaccines and products for protection against biological warfare, and has a 10-year contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. Avant¿s stock gained $1.69 on the news, or about 57 percent, and closed the day at $4.64 after trading as high as $6.93.
Even so, bioterrorism is not Avant¿s focus, said its CEO and president, Una Ryan.
¿We are happy to be part of the country¿s defense, but we are not an antiterrorist company, per se,¿ she said. Instead, Avant is a company that focuses on three areas: cardiac surgery, oral vaccines for travelers, and managing cholesterol.
Its most advanced vaccine is Rotarix, a product that is directed against rotavirus infection and is partnered with GlaxoSmithKline plc, of London. Ryan said she expects Glaxo to move the product into Phase III trials in 2002, but the trial is completely under the partner¿s control.
Its complement inhibitor, TP10, works to inhibit inappropriate activation of the complement cascade. The product recently came off a clinical hold imposed on two Phase IIb trials with infants undergoing cardiac surgery. The FDA imposed the hold following a Data Safety Monitoring Board request for additional information. Upon reviewing data, however, the board unanimously recommended patient enrollment resume, albeit with new laboratory tests added to the study protocol.
Ryan said Avant expects to complete the trials in the third quarter of 2002. The company also has a Phase II trial in adults that is expected to bear at least preliminary data by year¿s end.
The company began a Phase II trial in August for CETi-1, its cholesterol management vaccine. The product is designed to raise high-density lipoprotein levels.
Avant¿s business model is to take products through Phase II and then seek partnerships, and with products in Phase II now, Avant is nearing the partner-seeking stage. The bulk of the $14 million will go toward continuing the development of its pipeline products.
¿We want to work through the line and get better and better at each candidate,¿ Ryan said.