BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Oxford BioMedica plc plans to raise £40 million (US$58.1 million) in a placing and open offer, as it moves up to the main market of the London Stock Exchange. It is placing 54.5 million shares at 55 pence a share to raise £30 million, and up to £10 million by an open offer of 19.1 million shares, also priced at 55 pence per share.

The placing is being underwritten by N. M. Rothschild and Sons Ltd. and Beeson Gregory Ltd. The open offer is not underwritten, but Finance Director Andrew Wood told BioWorld International, "The reaction from the institutions was extremely positive, so we think we will get most of this. However, we are more than happy that the £30 million from the placing meets our working capital requirements."

The company listed on the junior Alternative Investment Market in December 1996, and has raised £30 million to date. It is expected that admission to the main market will take place April 17. The shares closed at 71 pence on Friday, the trading day before the fund raising was announced.

Oxford BioMedica, based in Oxford, UK, will use the money to increase the scale of its R&D, moving its gene therapy programs beyond the existing focus on cancer and into neurodegenerative diseases. It also plans to set up a business unit in the U.S., probably in San Diego, to handle clinical and business development.

"The ability of our LentiVector to deliver genes to the central nervous system gives us a unique position that we want to capitalize on in neurobiology," Wood said.

Its lead product in preclinical development in CNS diseases is ProSavin for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, in which the LentiVector delivers three genes that stimulate non-dopaminergic cells to produce dopamine.

The company also has a license to RARbeta2, a gene involved in nerve formation, which stimulates adult neurons to regrow in vitro. "We are very excited by this project and a number of others in stroke and Alzheimer's that we now have the resources to take forward," Wood said. LentiVector also is being assessed by Oxford BioMedica's partner, Aventis SA, for use in its cardiovascular gene therapy program.

The company's lead product, MetXia, is in Phase I/II trials in breast and ovarian cancer, with results expected by the end of 2001. It second product, TroVax, is in Phase I/II in colorectal cancer, with results due by mid-2002.