By Mary Welch

Immtech International Inc. raised about $11.5 million through an initial public offering (IPO) that was completed with a lot of help from investors in Hong Kong.

The company, headquartered in Evanston, Ill., sold 1.15 million shares at $10 each. The stock (NASDAQ:IMMT) has more than doubled since its debut Tuesday. It closed up 31 percent Thursday, at $20.50.

¿Did we, like a lot of other biotech companies, find the market a bit tight?¿ asked Stephen Thompson, president and CEO. ¿Yes and no. They were a little hesitant here but we actually did two offerings ¿ or a simultaneous offering. We had raised about 70 percent in Hong Kong before we ever went to the U.S. market. That helped us a lot here. We had very strong and consistent interest overseas before trading in the U.S.¿

The Asian underwriters were New China Hong Kong and China Everbright Securities, both of Hong Kong. Handling the U.S. side was Westport Resources Investments Services Inc., of Westport, Conn.

Thompson believes there are several reasons for the successful IPO. One is how Immtech is set up. Instead of having expensive and time-consuming drug discovery efforts, Immtech focuses on the discoveries made through a large university consortium led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and including Duke University, Auburn University and Georgia State University.

In addition, it has licensed technology from Northwestern University and Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke¿s Medical Center in Chicago. Discussions are under way with another Chicago medical center about licensing new drug candidates. Much of the universities¿ research is sponsored and funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

So far, the consortium has accumulated a library of more than 800 compounds being tested in laboratories throughout the world. Additional compounds are being screened for future development, for which Immtech will have exclusive licensing rights as antimicrobial agents.

¿Our concept is to establish broad licensing arrangements with universities that have broad platforms,¿ Thompson said. ¿Then we take them through the clinical and regulatory stages to commercialization. Essentially, we are a clinical management and commercialization company. It¿s a concept that¿s efficient in spending dollars, and investors like that.¿

Overall, Immtech¿s drug development programs are aimed at treating fungal, parasitic, bacterial and cancer diseases. The two most advanced programs involve diseases of great importance to China and other developing countries. ¿That¿s another reason why we went to Hong Kong,¿ he said.

The company¿s pharmaceutical program is based on the rational drug design of a class of therapeutic compounds known as dications. These dications, which can be used to treat a variety of infectious diseases caused by fungal, protozoan, bacterial and viral organisms, are based on naturally occurring proteins that enhance the immune system.

In addition, it has a program based on biological proteins that work in conjunction with the body¿s immune system. Those proteins are derivatives of C-Reactive Protein, which occurs naturally in the body. Immtech believes these proteins can be used to control the structural environment around cancerous tumors by reprogramming the cancerous cells to stop growing uncontrollably and revert to normal cell behavior.

Scheduled to enter Phase I trials this year is Carbamidine (DAP-092) for the treatment of Cryptosporidium parvum, a protozoan parasite that causes severe diarrhea and wasting. The parasite is commonly found in drinking water and has been identified as the cause of large outbreaks of diarrhea around the world.

The disease is one of the world¿s most common infections of the intestinal tract, and flares up in immunocompromised people. No drug is currently available, and the company estimates a worldwide market could reach $100 million annually.

The second drug, Furamidoxime (DB-289), also will enter Phase I trials this year. Furamidoxime will be tested as an oral substitute for Pentamidine, the drug currently used to treat Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), a fungal disease found in the lungs. It also is the most common form of pneumonia in immune-suppressed patients, such as those with AIDS or cancer or who are undergoing transplants. And, the company said, it is effective against tropical diseases such as Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and Leishmaniasis (skin ulcers). Considering all those indications, the company believes Furamidoxime could become a $200 million drug.

Although Pentamidine (marketed by Fujisawa Healthcare Inc., of Osaka, Japan) is effective against PCP, the drug has significant toxic side effects, including potential damage to the kidney and liver. In addition, it only can be administered intravenously or through inhalation therapy.

Furamidoxime is an analogue of Pentamidine in which the charges have been temporarily neutralized to enable it to cross the digestive membranes. The drug can be taken orally and, because it has reduced toxicity, requires less medical supervision than Pentamidine.

Other dicationic compounds in the initial stages of development are in the areas of fungal and mycobacterial infections and tuberculosis.

¿Some of the diseases we¿re targeting are small inside the U.S.,¿ Thompson said. ¿But outside the U.S., they¿re huge.¿ n