By Debbie Strickland

Associate

If all goes well at the FDA, Matrix Pharmaceutical Inc. could launch its first product, an injectable anticancer gel, in less than a year. To gear up for that enterprise, the Fremont, Calif., company struck a deal for a private placement of $31 million in common stock.

Matrix entered definitive agreements to sell 12.5 million shares at $12.50 each, a 6 percent discount to the prior 20-day average trading price of the company's common stock. Banc of America Securities LLC served as placement agent for the transaction.

The private placement approach offered a convenient form of financing, said David Ludvigson, senior vice president and chief operating officer. "We were able to target some specific institutional investors with interest in Matrix and quickly close the transaction."

Matrix will use the funds to prepare for the potential launch of IntraDose Injectable Gel, a collagen-based gel treatment for cancer that incorporates cisplatin and epinephrine. In two Phase III studies in 178 patients with late-stage recurrent or refractory head and neck cancer, the product not only met its primary endpoint of tumor response, but also demonstrated high benefits to patients in pain control and relief of symptoms, among other benefits. (See BioWorld Today, May 23, 2000, p. 1.)

Matrix has submitted two sections of the new drug application for IntraDose and expects to submit the final section by the end of the year. Marketing approval could come as early as mid-2001 for the product, which has the FDA's fast-track designation.

The financing doubles Matrix's cash level to more than $60 million and will be used to support launch preparations "We will be in the process of staffing a marketing and sales function, with emphasis on the marketing piece this year and the sales piece in 2001," Ludvigson said.

Matrix will market IntraDose in the U.S., but expects to name a partner for other territories by the end of the year, he said.

Landing a marketing partner would cap a year that is shaping up to be a pivotal one for the company.

"We've really done a lot things this year: We broke the blind on our pivotal Phase III trials and announced results in May at ASCO [the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology]; we're busily working on filing the NDA," he said. "This is our year."

For Matrix, the recent success is the reward for hanging on after failing to win FDA approval in 1997 for a genital warts product called AccuSite (the product did win approval in some European countries). In the wake of the bad news, the company cut staff and concentrated efforts on cancer programs, most notably the lead product, IntraDose.

Matrix's cancer pipeline also includes MPI 5020, a radiopotentiator that uses the same delivery system as IntraDose and incorporates the chemotherapeutic fluorouracil. In 1998, the company added a product called FMdC, an intravenously administered therapeutic for non-small-cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and hematologic and other cancers.

The company's shares (NASDAQ:MATX) closed Thursday at $15.125, up 25 cents.

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