Despite a tough UK biotechnology market shares in Antisoma climbed nearly 17% last week after the group reported strong first-half results and said it had plenty of cash for new deals in the cancer arena.

Investors revelled in news that the company’s revenues hit £16.5 million for the six months to December 31, marking a substantial hike from the £300,000 recorded for the year-ago period.

Sales were bolstered by a licensing deal signed with Novartis for its ASA404 back in April 2007, under which the Swiss drug giant scooped up global rights to the oncology drug. This helped Antisoma swing back into the black with profits after tax of £6.2 million compared to a prior loss of £6.4 million, despite substantial rises in operating expenses (up 72% to £14 million) and R&D costs (+ 62% at £9.4 million).

Importantly, Antisoma ended the reporting period with just over £50 million cash in its back pocket, which it reportedly intends to use to buy other cancer-focused groups finding it difficult to get funds during the current credit squeeze, according to Reuters.

“With a strong balance sheet, we are well placed to invest in and add value to our current pipeline and to add further promising drugs to our portfolio when opportunities arise”, commented group chairman Barry Price.

And analysts at Edison Investment Research seem equally upbeat about the group’s near-term potential. “Antisoma is one of only a few companies in the UK biotech sector without a near-term funding requirement…and investors can expect significant clinical trial news flow to drive the share price over the coming months,” the group said in a recent research note.

Clinical developments
Most notably, data from the first Phase II data with AS1411 in acute myeloid leukaemia, which is pitting the agent against the current standard therapy cytarabine, are expected sometime in the second quarter, while Novartis is on the brink of kicking off a Phase III trial of ASA404 in non-small cell lung cancer, which will trigger a milestone payment of $25 million to the UK group.

Furthermore, Antisoma said its antibody-based drug AS1402 is on track to enter a randomised Phase II trial in breast cancer during 2008 and, in a separate announcement, it reported that AS1409 has entered the clinic in a Phase I trial in melanoma and renal cancer.