French biotechnology firm NicOx has announced a rights issue which it hopes will raise 130 million euros and fund further development of its lead drug naproxcinod (HCT 3012) which will be going into Phase III trials for osteoarthritis.

As part of the rights issue, new shares will be offered, at a price to be announced on January 29, and existing NicOx stockholders will have preferential subscription rights to them. The offer, which is open to the public in France only, will run from January 30 to February 5.

NicOx said that two further Phase III trials of naproxcinod are expected to be initiated in the first half of 2007, and the company hopes to file its first regulatory submission in the USA in the first quarter of 2009. It is the first in a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs known as CINODs (COX-inhibiting nitric oxide-donators and the French firm said that unlike existing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, naproxcinod appears to have no detrimental effect on blood pressure.

The company’s chief executive Michele Garufi noted that the new funds will also help with the financing of initial pre-marketing to support the launch of the compound, while it looks for a partner ahead of commercialisation. Mr Garufi added that "this important offering will support our strategy of building NicOx into a fully-integrated biopharmaceutical company focused on the cardiometabolic and inflammatory disease areas."

In addition to naproxcinod, the firm expects to initiate two Phase II studies for NCX 4016 in type 2 diabetes during the first half of 2007. The latter is a nitric oxide-donating derivative of aspirin, which NicOx intends to position “as the first in a new class of drugs targeting insulin resistance, with a potentially improved safety profile and a different mechanism of action from existing type 2 diabetes treatments.”

Gets milestone payment from Merck

Meantime, NicOx announced it has achieved the first milestone of five million euros as part of its alliance signed last year with Merck & Co which could be worth almost 300 million euros before royalties.

The payment was linked to the initiation of toxicology studies on the first antihypertensive candidate selected by the companies and NicOx previously received 9.2 million euros from Merck, leaving 274 million euros more in future potential milestones.