BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Serentis Ltd. raised £10.3 million (US$20.8 million) in a first venture capital funding round, enabling it to progress two or three products into Phase II clinical trials over the next 2.5 years.

The company, formed a year ago by executives from Arakis Ltd. has adopted a similar business model of finding new indications for existing drugs based on fresh biological insights. However, founding CEO Tim Sharpington said that after rapidly reaching clinical proof of principle in the new indication, the aim will be to chemically modify compounds to produce novel chemical entities.

"We will have all the low risk of working with known pharmacology, but the value of NCEs," he told BioWorld International.

With an eye on where it hopes to be going in the future, Serentis has established its headquarters in Delaware in the U.S., but that is still a shell, and the company's operations are based in Cambridge, UK. Sharpington's co-founders are Alan Rothaul, CSO, who was head of biological sciences at Arakis, and Andy Baxter, R&D director, who was discovery director. The Japanese company Sosei Co Ltd acquired Arakis for £106.5 million (then US$187.4 million) in July 2005.

The venture capital investors, who also provided the seed funding, are MVM Life Science Partners, Apposite Capital and Novo A/S, the venture arm of the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk A/S.

To date, Serentis has two products in its portfolio, Ser-1, for treating chemotherapy-induced mucositis, and Ser-3, a dual-action wound care treatment that is expected to act as an analgesic and to have a healing effect. Both currently are administered by intravenous injection, and will be reformulated for topical application.

In the case of Ser-3, it is known there are side effects, and having reached proof of principle Serentis will modify the compound to exclude undesirable properties.

Sharpington is looking to in-license further products, or may decide to advance in-house projects into the clinic. "We are evaluating our own projects against licensing opportunities to get the best balance in the portfolio," he said. In addition to wound healing and adjunctive cancer therapies, Serentis has interests in diabetic complications and fibrotic disorders.

The commercialization strategy will vary from product to product. "Some we would expect to out-license at Phase II because they are big pharma plays, which a company like us would struggle to take to registration," said Sharpington. "Others are not out of reach, so we may be able to take them further."