Znomics Inc., a drug discovery firm founded five years ago to leverage a technology platform using zebrafish, is getting ready to expand its capabilities, thanks to a $4.9 million private offering.

At the same time, the Portland, Ore.-based company completed a reverse merger with Pacific Syndicated Resources Inc., a firm originally set up to explore a mineral property in British Columbia. That deal gives Znomics an Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board listing under "PSRI" - to be changed shortly to a ticker reflective of its biotech operations - and the company anticipates jumping to the Nasdaq market in the future. Shares closed at $3 Wednesday, up 20 cents.

As a firm, Znomics has been "slowly growing" since it was established in 2002 by scientists from Oregon Health & Science University to develop a drug discovery platform based on high-throughput screening against human disease models in live zebrafish, said company CEO Richard Sessions.

Znomics successfully "mutated every gene in zebrafish" to create the ZeneMark Library.

To date, the mouse/rat model is the most widely used in drug discovery, but the zebrafish model offers several advantages, Sessions told BioWorld Today. "It's an animal that lends itself to genetic research. It's easy to care for, it breeds fast" and it allows researchers quickly to obtain broad-based genetic information that can apply to therapeutic discovery. Zebrafish carry genes analogous to between 80 percent and 90 percent of those found in humans.

In addition, they have one other "great attribute," he said. The bodies of zebrafish are transparent in the first few days of their adult lives, "making it possible to see visually whether a particular molecule" is having the desired effect.

Much of Znomics business to date involves marketing its more than 11,000 mutational fish lines to scientists and academic researchers around the world, Sessions said. And the company has used that part of its business to advance zebrafish research.

But Znomics' primary aim is to develop new drugs, eventually building its own drug pipeline in the areas of obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The firm hasn't generated any lead compounds, yet, but "we're gearing up to do that over the next three years," Sessions said.

Using the live zebrafish models, "we think we can [generate compounds] faster than cell-based drug discovery programs," he added. Those models allow "us to get read-outs in efficacy, toxicity and pharmacokinetics all at about the same time," thereby shortening the discovery process.

As the company continues to grow, Sessions said, "you can expect us to make significant advances in our business plan and to development lead compounds for major diseases."

Znomics also anticipates additional partnerships with biotech and pharma firms. In 2005, the firm signed a discovery deal with Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck & Co. Inc. to characterize drug targets for metabolic diseases using the zebrafish technology.

Prior to the latest financing, Znomics' funding has come from venture capital - a little less than $1 million raised in two rounds - and about $1.8 million in Small Business Innovation Research funding from the National Institutes of Health to support work on the ZeneMark Library.

In other financings news:

• F-star, of Vienna, Austria, raised €3 million (US$4.5 million) from Bagsvaerd, Denmark-based Novo A/S in a second closing of its Series A financing, bringing the total round to €9 million. Since inception, the antibody engineering company has brought in €13 million. Combined with existing cash and commitments, the additional funds are expected to allow F-star to further speed up the development of its Modular Antibody Technology platform and to devote additional resources to the development of its product portfolio as well as to industry collaborations.

• Vitreoretinal Technologies Inc., of Irvine, Calif., closed an $8.8 million Series A financing with lead investor De Novo Ventures and a group of private investors. The specialty pharma firm anticipates using the funds to support upcoming Phase III studies of its two lead small-molecule drugs: Vitreosolve for diabetic retinopathy and Neurosolve for glaucoma. VRT also is investigating Neurosolve in retinitis pigmentosa, an indication for which the drug recently received orphan drug status in the U.S.

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