Antisoma shares got a boost yesterday as investors seems to remained confident in the company’s planned transition from a cancer drug development group to one that also markets products, despite a hefty swing into the red for the year ended June 30.

The London-based group posted a loss of £16.4 million for the year compared to profit of £12.3 million for the previous 12 months, with the shortfall simply down to the fact that operating expenses were substantially over and above the cash coming in from its deals with Novartis and sanofi-aventis during the 12 month reporting period.

Total operating expenses shot up from £28.7 million last year to £40.8 million, driven by a significant rise in research and development expenses – which leapt 62% to £35.9 million – as the firm continued to sink resources into fuelling the progress of its development projects.

But despite the substantial loss the company closed the year with a healthy wad of cash in its pocket following the sale of US rights to oral fludarabine to sanofi-aventis for $60 million, which, according to Antisoma’s Chief Financial Officer Eric Dodd, should enable the firm to fund all of its priority programmes until mid-2011, beyond the time key Phase III data for ASA404 – partnered with Novartis in lung cancer - and AS1413 in secondary acute myeloid leukaemia is expected.

Also commenting on the results, Glyn Edwards, Antisoma’s chief executive, said “important progress” had been made during 2009, “with gathering momentum on our two Phase III programmes, positive Phase II data for a third product and our first product approval from the Food and Drug Administration”. In addition, he said: “With the pipeline maturing, we now have a dual focus on driving products towards regulatory approvals and on building a strong platform for product commercialisation”.

Optimistic outlook
Looking ahead on the development side, the group said it expects the initiation of trials to assess ASA404 in a second major cancer indication - metastatic breast cancer – by its partner Novartis, and that it will be reporting first data from a Phase II trial of AS1411 in renal cancer before the end of the year with final data during the first half of 2010.

And while the group suffered a setback with the failure of its antibody drug AS1402 in a Phase II trial in breast cancer earlier this year, it seems to have other candidates – such its antibody-cytokine fusion protein AS1409 which has shown promise in a Phase I trial in melanoma and renal cancer - in its early-stage pipeline with the potential to spearhead growth in the longer term.