U.S. HIV drug firm Koronis looks to London listing

LONDON Sun Mar 13, 2011 7:20am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Koronis Pharmaceuticals, a privately held U.S. biotech firm working on a new kind of HIV drug, is looking to list in London later this year or early in 2012, its chief executive said.

Seattle-based Koronis -- pioneering a new HIV drug designed to accelerate mutation of the virus that causes AIDS to the point where it collapses -- needs around $15 million to take its experimental product to the next stage of clinical tests.

CEO Donald Elmer said he had been in talks with banks in London because raising small sums of that size was no longer feasible on the Nasdaq market in the United States, given the heavy costs of maintaining a listing there.

He aims to raise the cash needed to take Koronis's "viral decay acceleration" drug KP-1461 into further mid-stage Phase II studies via either an initial public offering (IPO) on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM) or by reversing into a listed entity with a cash balance.

"The practical problem today is that Nasdaq is out of reach for many companies that are at the size of Koronis and the AIM market is an ideal intermediate rung for company looking to raise 10-15 million pounds," he said in a telephone interview.

So far, KP-1461 has been tested in short clinical trials on around 80 patients with no ill-effect. Now Koronis needs to conduct longer-term tests to see if it really can reduce the amount of virus circulating in patients' blood.

If it works, the new drug could mark a major change in HIV/AIDS treatment. Existing drugs all work by suppressing virus function and must be taken in life-long cocktail combinations. KP-1461 would be the first non-suppressive therapy.

Katherine Xu, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in a research note in January that the approach was potentially "game changing" for the $12 billion-a-year HIV market, although it was still at a very early stage and therefore highly uncertain.

Leading players in HIV treatment at present include Gilead (GILD.O) and ViiV Healthcare, a joint venture of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Pfizer (PFE.N).

Koronis has to date raised $43 million in a series of private fund-raisings. It is majority-owned by Pacific Horizon Ventures, a Seattle-based venture capital firm.

(Editing by Louise Heavens)

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