French biotechnology firm NicOx says that its net loss widened in 2006 as a result of costs associated with late-stage trials of its osteoarthritis drug naproxcinod but its revenues rose sharply.

Losses increased 59.4% to 24.7 million euros while revenues rose 47.5% to 9.6 million euros and the company ended the year with cash and equivalents of 81.7 million euros, up from 42.6 million euros for the previous year, boosted by major new agreements signed with Pfizer and Merck & Co, which saw the two drug giants get access to NicOx technology for ophthalmology and hypertension programmes respectively. The company also benefited from a private placement financing that raised 45.5 million euros.

The highlight of the year was the progress made with naproxcinod which successfully completed its first Phase III trial for osteoarthritis of the knee, meeting all three of its co-primary efficacy endpoints. Furthermore, the drug showed no detrimental effects on blood pressure, with the systolic blood pressure reduction versus naproxen, and NicOx was also boosted by what it calls the “establishment of a clear pathway to regulatory submission for naproxcinod in the USA and Europe,” following the confirmation that a long-term cardiovascular outcomes trial will not be required. NicOx plans to initiate two further Phase III trials for naproxcinod in the first half of 2007, with results expected in 2008.

Chief executive Michele Garufi said the agreements with Pfizer and Merck “and the advancement of our research projects lend considerable validation to our proprietary technology [and] NicOx' strengthened balance sheet and strategic position should allow us to fully exploit the potential of naproxcinod and our wider portfolio.”