Light Sciences Oncology Raises $40 Million for Cancer Trials

7/15/08Follow @xconomy

The show must go on at Light Sciences Oncology, with or without public investors. The privately-held company in Bellevue, WA, raised $40.1 million in a third-round financing to continue running a pair of final-stage clinical trials of its experimental cancer treatment, which uses a drug activated by light. The company has now raised $137 million for its drug development programs.

Light Sciences will use the cash for a study of patients with a type of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) and colorectal tumors that have spread. It is also planning to run trials for brain cancer and for men with an enlarged prostate. The private round of financing comes from undisclosed sources, after the company withdrew paperwork in February that would have allowed it to go public. Boston-based investment bank Leerink Swann served as the company’s financial adviser.

The money “will allow us to continue to move forward with all aspects of our development plan in a timely manner,” said Llew Keltner, the company’s CEO, in a statement.

Light Sciences is developing Litx, a drug/device combination therapy against especially difficult cancers that aren’t treated well with drugs that circulate through the body. It is designed to work by inserting a catheter into a solid tumor, mounted with a light-emitting diode on the tip, and turning on the light. The patient is then injected with an inactive chemical drug that becomes activated to kill tumors within a limited wavelength around the light. It’s supposed to kill tumors without damaging the healthy tissue nearby.

The system is in a Phase III trial of liver cancer that started in July 2006 and is expected to enroll about 200 patients, according to clinicaltrials.gov. The study is expected to end in October.

Since Light Sciences got its trial underway, the standard of care for liver cancer has improved. Nexavar, a drug developed by Emeryville, CA-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX) and Bayer, won FDA approval last year for showing it could extend median survival times to 10.7 months, compared with 7.9 months for those on a placebo. If Light Sciences Oncology’s trial can show that it, too, helps patients live longer, it could provide a new option for a disease that affects an estimated 19,000 people every year in the U.S.

Whether public investors will want any part of it is another story. Just one biotech company in the U.S. has gone public this year, according to Signals Magazine. This might be a good test case for how dismal the markets really are, if treatments that extend people’s lives in Phase III trials can’t even get financing.

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