Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc., trying to buck the recent downturn inbiotechnology stocks, said Friday it registered to sell 2.5 millionshares in an offering that could raise about $100 million.

The La Jolla, Calif., company which already has more than $100million in cash, hopes to get approval in 1997 of the highly toutedHIV protease inhibitor, Viracept. Agouron has all rights to the drugin North America and intends to market Viracept itself. The companyboosted its profile further Thursday through the completion of agenerous deal with Hofmann-La Roche Inc. in the area of cancer.

Agouron in September 1995 completed an offering of three millionshares at $28 each for gross proceeds of $84 million. The stock,trading in the $11 range two years ago, closed Friday at $39.25,down 75 cents, the amount it gained Thursday. At that price thisoffering would gross 98.1 million.

The company's pipeline potential and the fact it has only 10.6 millionshares outstanding have made it a favorite among analysts. Thisoffering is being managed by PaineWebber Inc., of New York, andAlex. Brown & Sons Inc., of Baltimore.

Tim Wilson, an analyst at New York-based UBS Securities, doesn'tfollow Agouron, but said a number of companies could have troublecompleting offerings in this environment. "You have to have aspecial story and a keen price to get a deal down now," he said. "It'sa very antagonistic market."

Wilson stressed, however, "that this does not look like a bear market.Biotech has done nothing to deserve it." A number of factors,including last year's phenomenal success in the sector, arecontributing to the downturn, he said, adding that a correction insome ways is healthy. Some good product news in the second half ofthis year should bring biotechnology stocks back, Wilson said.

Agouron is among the companies that will be releasing results frompivotal studies in the near term. Viracept results should be availablein time for the filing of a new drug application in early 1997.Company officials have said they hope to be able to file a new drugapplication for the lead cancer drug, Thymitaq, by the end of 1997 orin 1998.

Thymitaq and two other cancer programs were partnered Thursdaywith Roche, of Nutley, N.J., in a deal worth more than $75 million.That collaboration gave Agouron shared marketing rights in NorthAmerica. (See BioWorld Today, June 21, 1996, p. 1.)

Part of the proceeds from the proposed offering would be used forbuilding up Viracept inventory and setting up the marketinginfrastructure. When the company did its last offering it was not surethat it was going to market the HIV drug itself.

Agouron reported having $105 million in cash on March 31, 1996.Since then it received a $15 million license fee from Roche on thecancer program. The company is spending about $45 million peryear. n

-- Jim Shrine

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.