BioWorld International Correspondent

Fusion Antibodies Ltd. raised another $2.4 million to fund preclinical development of a pipeline of monoclonal antibodies in development for cancer applications, adding to the $2.5 million it banked last year.

In addition to the new investment, the Belfast, Northern Ireland-based company also gained £400,000 (US$813,000) in research funding from Invest Northern Ireland, the government agency that promotes industrial development in Northern Ireland.

Fusion Antibodies was founded in 2001 by Chief Scientific Officer Jim Johnston, who holds the chair of immunology at Queen's University Belfast (QUB). "For the last five, six years, most people know us as a service company," Business Development Director Paul Kerr told BioWorld International.

That activity, which includes antibody engineering, antibody sequencing and recombinant protein expression, brought in $1.3 million in revenue in 2006. To date, the company has purified some 500 recombinant proteins and has raised more than 200 antibodies for third-party clients.

However, Fusion's ambition from the outset was to develop a pipeline of therapeutic antibodies for cancer treatment that would be administered in combination with existing chemotherapy drugs. "Now we've actually built a nice protocol, and we're generating good hits," Kerr said.

It has a portfolio of about a dozen antibodies directed against proprietary targets, most of which were identified by the company's in-house genome mining efforts. The remainder were in-licensed from QUB. The two lead drug candidates should complete preclinical development next year. "We're hoping to go into a Phase I clinical trial in 2009," Kerr said.

The participants in the recent round are all based in Northern Ireland. They include Crescent Capital, Viridian Growth Fund, QUBIS Ltd., the University Challenge Fund and Invest Northern Ireland.

Scarcity of funding hampered Fusion's drug discovery efforts during its initial years of activity. "This is Belfast, not Boston," Kerr said. However, the cessation of violence and the recent political settlement within the region have bolstered economic confidence. The company aims to raise substantially more funding when it is ready to move into the clinic.