Without a doubt, what matters most for a development-stage drug company are clinical trial results, followed by regulatory success in getting its products approved and marketed. NorthfieldLaboratories (NASDAQ:NFLD) is no different.

Northfield's lead product under development is a reconstituted human blood substitute called PolyHeme. It's designed for use in trauma patients when there is no real blood around -- usually in emergencies or other dire situations. A large phase 3 clinical trial involving PolyHeme recently finished, and the trial results are expected sometime in the fourth quarter. If the trial is a failure, Northfield will be in quite a bind, since it has no other products in development and will shortly be running low on cash.

Speaking of cash, the one financial metric that really matters for young pharmaceutical startups like Northfield is its rate of cash burn. In the third quarter, Northfield burned through roughly $5 million in cash, and reduced current assets from $75 million down to $60 million. Since Northfield is coming dangerously close to running out of cash, and with a manufacturing facility buildup on the horizon, the company will have to raise cash fairly soon.

Most likely, Northfield will wait until after the release of the PolyHeme trial results before doing any dilutive financing. Developing drug companies tend to wait until after the release of trial results; if those results are good and the share price rises, the company can raise more money less dilutively, by selling fewer shares.

Regardless of its burn rate or the size of financing in which Northfield engages, the company's much-awaited phase 3 trial results will be its most important announcement. Until the fate of its lead product is known, most of Northfield's financial results will be of peripheral importance at best.

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Fool contributor Brian Lawler does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy .