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Two years after pulling in a solid Series A round, French firm Fovea Pharmaceuticals SA added €30 million (US$44 million) in Series B funding to push its lead ophthalmic products through the clinic.

Forbion Capital Partners, of Naarden, the Netherlands, led the financing, joined by a group of existing international investors, including Paris-based Sofinnova Partners, London-based Abingworth, Antwerp, Belgium-based GIMV, the WellCome Trust of London and Paris-based CAPE (Credit Agricole Private Equity).

All told, the company has raised €50.5 million since its founding in May 2005 to develop a pipeline by using its internal research and discovery platform and by formulating existing molecules for ophthalmology indications. Its ability to attract venture capital, particularly in the highly competitive European markets, can be attributed to the firm's advanced pipeline of products, management team and recently signed agreements with heavy hitters such as Novartis SA and Genzyme Corp., said Bernard Davitian, chief financial officer for Paris-based Fovea.

The latest financing is a "quite significant" investment that should fund Fovea's operations for the next three years, Davitian told BioWorld Today. At the end of that period, the firm should have "clinical efficacy data on several products."

Leading the pipeline is FOV1101, an eye drop formulation composed of a topical enhanced steroid that's designed to treat allergic conjunctivitis. While steroids generally are effective in that indication, they carry the risk of side effects, such as secondary infections, glaucoma and cataracts. Fovea's product is formulated to "retain the efficacy of the steroid" while avoiding those side effects, Davitian said.

FOV1101 is expected to enter Phase II trials in mid-2008, he added. "We should have data before the end of that year."

Since allergic conjunctivitis represents a large market that goes beyond the company's specialized ophthalmic focus, Fovea anticipates finding a marketing partner for FOV1101. The rest of its current pipeline is aimed at the retinal field, a space that could be covered adequately by a small sales force, Davitian said.

That pipeline includes two products in development for macular edema. One of those, FOV2301, like its allergic conjunctivitis product, is a formulation of an enhanced steroid designed to be administered intravitreally in patients with diabetic macular edema. FOV2301 is expected to enter Phase IIa testing next year, followed by Phase IIb trials in 2009. A second product, FOV2302, which is based on a small protein drug being developed by another firm in an unrelated indication, is slated to enter the clinic next year in acute macular edema.

In addition to those products, Fovea is advancing FOV2501, a protein drug discovered by Jose-Alain Sahel, co-founder and chairman of the company's scientific advisory board, and his team at INSERM, the French national institute for health and medical research. That drug emerged from a technology platform later licensed to Fovea for further drug discovery.

FOV2501, an intravitreal formulation of RdCVF (rod-derived cone viability factor), is in development for retinitis pigmentosa. So far, it has demonstrated results in two animal models, and Fovea anticipates moving that drug into the clinic in the first half of 2009, Davitian said.

The company also plans to exploit a discovery platform to identify new targets involved in photoreceptor degeneration in retinal dystrophies. To that end, it recently signed a research collaboration with Cambridge, Mass.-based Genzyme to develop gene-related therapies using Fovea-selected targets and Genzyme's gene delivery technologies. The aim of that partnership ultimately is to develop new therapeutic strategies for preventing or reducing the severity of blindness.

In connection with its latest VC round, Fovea named Sander Slootweg to its board. Slootweg joins Antoine Papiernik, of Sofinnova; Tim Haines, of Abingworth; and Anthony Wild, of Bows Pharmaceuticals. Fovea CEO Bernard Gilly serves as chairman.

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