Washington Editor

An emerging pharmaceutical firm called Quest Group International Inc. raised $20 million in private funding last week and simultaneously in-licensed a trio of oncology programs and other intellectual property.

The Los Angeles-based company plans to direct "the vast majority" of its new capital toward the clinical development of three lead compounds, CEO Harin Padma-Nathan told BioWorld Today. The products include retinoic acid receptor agonists and antagonists, as well as a rexinoid small molecule.

"The collective promise of the library of compounds is huge," Padma-Nathan said, noting that they represent the world's largest collection of new compounds in the retinoic acid-rexinoid class. "We have gathered a world class team of scientists to facilitate a rapid development plan, [and] our objective is to utilize our capital to advance clinical development to late stages."

One compound will enter Phase II testing for acute leukemia in the next three months. Another will be evaluated for safety in humans followed by efficacy studies in some of the most common cancers, including lung and breast cancer. The third will be developed to reduce the toxicity of chemotherapy, neutropenia, by lowering infection risks that result from reduced white blood cell counts.

Each compound represents a unique chemical structure, unique class of therapy and unique pharmacological function.

"Some are novel therapeutic approaches," Padma-Nathan said, "[and] others are more selective versions of an established therapeutic class."

The programs were in-licensed from privately held Vitae Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Fort Washington, Pa. Neither company disclosed terms of the agreement.

In addition to the three lead compounds, Quest also acquired a platform of technology, intellectual property and a library of small molecules that will be used for additional therapeutic discoveries. The company plans to work outside the cancer space on therapies for bone repair and healing, cartilage loss, lipid metabolic defects and diabetes mellitus.

In the financing arrangement, details of which were not disclosed per SEC rules, Hunter World Markets Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif., acted as its sole placement agent. Investors also were not disclosed.

On Friday, Quest's shares (OTCBB:QSTG) gained 29 cents to close at 99 cents, a 41.4 percent gain.

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