By Randall Osborne

Trimeris Inc., a drug discovery company with a lead candidate that is believed to inhibit HIV infection by preventing the virus from fusing with host cells, raised $33 million in an initial public offering (IPO).

The Durham, N.C.-based company sold 2.75 million shares at $12 per share, and plans to move ahead with its Phase II study of T-20 (pentafuside) in the next few weeks.

After the offering, the company will have about 10.15 million shares outstanding. The underwriters — UBS Securities L.L.C., of New York, and NationsBanc Montgomery Securities Inc., of San Francisco — have an overallotment option to purchase up to 412,500 shares.

An earlier, 14-day Phase I/II trial of 16 patients using T-20 intravenously found a dose-dependent reduction in viral load, said Ross Johnson, president and CEO of Trimeris. The finding is especially significant, since T-20 works by keeping the virus from attaching to cells, rather than fighting the virus after it has invaded.

"This is the first-ever demonstration that blockade of an external target results in a reduction of viral load," Johnson said. "Four [subjects] went below the limit of detection with no side effects."

The upcoming Phase II trial will use a delivery system manufactured by MiniMed, of Sylmar, Calif., a maker of devices used for continual infusion of insulin for diabetics. Trimeris signed an agreement with MiniMed in April to develop a pump for administering T-20 subcutaneously to HIV patients.

Pump Makes Taking Drug Easier For Patients

Matthew Megaro, chief operating officer for Trimeris, said the device resembles a pager and is worn on the patient's belt or waistband. "A syringe cartridge goes in the back, and there's a very narrow nylon tube that comes out of the pump device. You put [the drug] in with a small, push-pin needle." Left in the injection site is a cannula through which the drug flows in measured amounts.

Compliance with drug dosages has been a problem in treating AIDS patients, who must often take several doses of various drugs at scattered times of day. The T-20 pump avoids that problem, Megaro said. "You generally forget you have it on, and you can't miss a dose," he said.

Endpoints of the Phase I/II trial, in addition to safety, were changes in viral load and CD4 counts, which are common standards for AIDS drugs, Megaro said. CD4 is the protein embedded in the outer T cell wall that functions as the receptor for the AIDS virus. The upcoming Phase II trial will last "a few months," using 30 to 40 subjects at a single site, with similar endpoints, Megaro said.

Larger trials of T-20 will begin early next year, on patients not responsive to any currently used AIDS drugs.

Founded in 1993, Trimeris developed T-20 — which was discovered in the viral coat protein of HIV-1 — through a collaboration with Duke University, in Durham, N.C. Trimeris, with 35 employees, also has developed computerized antifusion searching technology to identify regions of enveloped viruses suitable for drug intervention.

As of June 30, Trimeris had $8.912 million cash, with a net loss of $3.478 million for the first six months of 1997. Trimeris' stock (NASDAQ:TRMS), which began trading Tuesday, closed Thursday at $12.375, up $0.125. *

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