Cancer-trial elation

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progen industriesA LIVER cancer trial of a Brisbane biotechnology company's drug turned out positive results which analysts yesterday described as a "cracker".

The results from the second-round trial were also encouraging enough for Toowong-based Progen Industries to proceed with more advanced research and plans to raise funds.

The sharemarket initially seemed ambivalent, which was linked to investors potentially needing time to absorb the results or an attempt to knock down the share price. But by the afternoon a rush pushed shares up 84¢ to $4.99 – still off all-time highs of $13.18 in February 1997.

Progen's compound PI-88 is not a cancer cure but tries to fight tumours. One target is liver cancer, which the company said struck 625,000 people in 2002 and killed 600,000.

The latest test involved 172 patients in Taiwan who had just had their main tumours surgically removed.

The test showed that after 30 weeks, the risk of liver cancer recurring for patients using 160mg of PI-88 was one in five. That was better than the one in three recurrence risk for the "control" group (those who did not get PI-88).

The test showed 80 per cent of untreated patients were disease-free after 17 weeks. But of patients using PI-88, 80 per cent were disease-free after 30 weeks.

"It's a confirmation of PI-88's potential," Progen managing director Justus Homburg said.

Some adverse reactions were recorded, principally at higher – 250mg – doses; but Progen argued this was not unexpected.

ABN Amro Morgans analyst Scott Power said the preliminary results seemed encouraging, and he was looking for the next round of data early next year and the move towards critical Phase III trials.

Intersuisse analysts also labelled the result positive and another analyst, who did not wish to be named, described it as a "cracker".

One key area for that analyst was an increase in the rates before cancer returned, especially when compared with other drugs such as Avastin.

The result at a 160mg dosage level was described as being a plus from a manufacturing perspective.

But further trials are necessary and any product is not scheduled for market launch until 2011.

Progen also slightly extended some timelines yesterday, such as pushing the start of Phase III trials into the third quarter of next year.

The company, which has accumulated losses of $70.7 million, would not put a specific number on how much funds might be raised.

But Mr Homburg said Phase III trials cost about $50 million and ongoing funds were needed.

That fundraising was linked by one analyst to the initially poor stockmarket response. The theory was that a potential investor was trying to sell down stock to make participation in a fundraising cheaper.

source - Australian news