Developers of Wellcome plc's blockbuster antiviral drugs saidThursday they raised $18.5 million in a second round of privatefinancing for their new company, Triangle Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The Durham, N.C., company _ founded in July 1995 by inventorsand developers of AZT for HIV and acyclovir for herpes _ havelicensed rights to six compounds, four of which are targeted at HIV.Triangle in October 1995 raised $3.9 million in its first financinground.

A new investor in the latest round is The Wellcome Trust, of London,which held the largest stake in Wellcome plc when Triangle scientistswere working there and before it was acquired last year by Glaxo plc,of London.

"Clearly The Wellcome Trust knows this team very well and hasconfidence it will be as successful in the antiviral and anticancerareas as we were working as scientists for Wellcome," said NickEllis, Triangle's president and chief operating officer.

Another new investor was Goldman, Sachs & Co., of New York,whose investment marked a "significant endorsement of this team,"Ellis said. Also participating were Triangle's original investors:Forward Ventures, of San Diego; McFadden Brothers and VenrockAssociates, of New York; the London office of Schroder Ventures;and Triangle executives.

Triangle's strategy is to license and develop compounds that havemade it through the company's extensive testing criteria, which isdesigned to eliminate candidates by inducing resistance andotherwise getting the drug to fail in preclinical testing. (SeeBioWorld Today, Dec. 4, 1995, p. 1.)

Treatment of HIV and AIDS is going to require multiple drugs andregimens to reduce resistance, and Triangle officials want their drugsto be part of the mix. The lead candidate is MCK-442, the first drugfrom the class of non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors to bediscovered, Ellis said.

Triangle has an option on the compound from Mitsubishi ChemicalCo., of Tokyo. Phase I trials assessing safety and tolerability ofMCK-442 are ongoing in Berlin.

Also in Triangle's HIV pipeline are the compounds FTC, DAPD andCS-92, which were licensed from Emory University, in Atlanta, andfrom Emory and the University of Georgia, in Athens. Triangle alsohas licensed two topical compounds developed by Karl Hostetler, aprofessor at the University of California at San Diego. One, ACVMP,will be developed for herpes; the other, 2-CdAP, is targeted forpsoriasis.

Ellis said the next Triangle product to enter the clinic likely will be acompound for lung cancer for which the company currently isnegotiating a license.

He said the $18.5 million financing should allow Triangle to continuefull development of its compounds well into 1997. Triangle isconsidering an initial public offering of stock this fall or early nextyear, he said.

At Wellcome the Triangle scientists' expertise was in nucleosidedrugs, which interfere with the production of nucleic acid. Thecompounds at Triangle work in much the same way, Ellis said. Fourof the six drugs have been in humans, he said, "and we know a lotabout them or compounds closely related to them."

Leading the effort at Triangle is Chairman and CEO David Barry,who was at Wellcome for 18 years. While at Wellcome Barry andothers _ including Triangle's vice president of research and chiefscientific officer, Phillip Furman, and vice president of drugdevelopment, Sandra Nusinoff Lehrman _ moved AZT from the testtube to FDA approval in two years, four months. Barry also led thedevelopment of acyclovir (Zovirax) for herpes. Those two drugs werethe main pieces in Wellcome's $1.6 billion antivirals business. n

-- Jim Shrine

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