Shares in UK drugmaker Antisoma closed down nearly 3% yesterday after the group announced losses for the first half of 2008.

For the six months to December 31, 2008, Antisoma swung back into the red posting a loss of £5 million compared to a profit of £6.2 million for the year-earlier period.

The results were dragged down by plummeting turnover, which dropped to £5.5 million from £16.5 million in the first half of 2007, when sales were given a significant boost by Novartis’ purchase of the global rights to the firm’s ASA404 earlier that year.

In addition, operating expenses weighed on the group’s performance, climbing from £13.9 million to £20.0 million following the acquisition of the USA's Xanthus Pharmaceuticals for £26.8 million, and the greater spend associated with “a broader and more mature drug pipeline”, the firm said.

On the plus side, Antisoma closed the first half with a bigger cash pile of £52.7 million, which, the company says, puts it in good stead to drive forward its portfolio.

First US nod
Also during the period, the company won its first ever US approval, obtaining the green light for oral fludarabine, a tablet formulation of a drug used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

The company sees this product as “an attractive sales opportunity” because it offers the advantage of oral as opposed to intravenous dosing, and says it has decided to seek a commercialisation partner with an “established marketing infrastructure” in the US to make the most of its potential.

Antisoma also made significant advances during the reporting period on the development front, initiating a Phase III trial of ASA404 in second-line lung cancer, as well as Phase II studies of AS1411 in renal cancer and AS1402 in breast cancer.

“Our financial results show that we are well placed to continue investment in our drug pipeline,” commented Eric Dodd, Antisoma’s Chief Financial Officer. Current cash resources should be “sufficient to take our key programmes through mid-2010”, he said, but added that the planned divestment or partnering of the firm’s oral fludarabine could extend this to mid-2011.

And Barry Price, Antisoma’s chairman, was equally upbeat in his outlook. “Looking further ahead, we have two ongoing Phase III programmes that provide us with a clear opportunity to transition into a company that not only develops novel cancer drugs but also participates in their commercialisation,” he said.