Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick InterMune (NASDAQ:ITMN) announced Wednesday that it had raised nearly $74 million in a stock offering, and that it had initiated an early-stage clinical trial for one of its drug candidates.

InterMune's 4-million-share offering closed at a $19.50 per-share price that will dilute shares outstanding by 12%. With the newly raised cash, InterMune now has $283 million in cash and investments and only $170 million in long-term debt in the form of convertible notes.

InterMune's lead drug candidate, pirfenidone, is in two phase 3 trials for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, with trial results expected in late 2008 or early 2009. Its only other drug candidate, hepatitis C virus (HCV) compound ITMN-191, began phase 1b testing this week.

ITMN-191 is an antiviral protease inhibitor partnered with Roche. The study is a straightforward and typical hepatitis C study that will test 40 patients infected with HCV genotype 1 (the most common form of HCV in the U.S.) over 14 days of treatment. 

The first efficacy results from the ITMN-191 phase 1b study are expected in the first quarter of 2008. If it follows the development path of antiviral compounds such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (NASDAQ:VRTX) telaprevir or ViroPharma's (NASDAQ:VPHM) HCV-796, it's possible that interim phase 2 results could be publicized near the end of 2008.

Even if ITMN-191 enters mid-stage studies next year, with Roche funding two-thirds of its development costs and pirfenidone trials wrapping up in less than two years, InterMune's cash and investments on hand should last it until at least the end of 2008 and possibly year-end 2009, depending on whether it decides to go ahead and commercialize pirfenidone.

Taking a dip from the financing well now, rather than waiting for an uncertain future, was a sound decision that will prevent InterMune from getting stuck and having to raise cash at a depressed share price, as Encysive Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ENCY) has had to do.

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