In the biggest venture round for a U.S. company so far this year, Ception Therapeutics Inc. pulled in $63 million to advance its pipeline of treatments for inflammatory, infectious and vascular diseases.

Ception's financing brings the total raised by private biotech companies in January to slightly more than $450 million. The two largest rounds so far have come from European companies. Novexel SA, of Paris, brought in a $65 million Series B round to fund ongoing Phase I trials with its four antibacterial and antifungal drug candidates. Movetis NV, of Vosselaar, Belgium, closed a $63.7 million Series A round upon spinning out gastroenterology programs from Johnson & Johnson affiliates.

Ception's round was led by Essex Woodlands Health Ventures and included participation by new and existing investors such as Investor Growth Capital, MDS Life Sciences Technology Fund II (managed by MDS Capital), New Science Ventures and Aperture Venture Partners. The company said in a statement that the funds would be used "primarily to advance late-stage biologic anti-inflammatory programs and pursue further progression of a small-molecule anti-TNF program and several other discovery programs." A Ception spokesperson said the company could not comment further or provide additional information "due to competitive reasons."

Malvern, Pa.-based Ception has flown under the radar since merging with Fulcrum Pharmaceuticals Inc. in December 2005. The move combined Ception's clinical anti-inflammatory programs with Fulcrum's early stage pipeline and drug discovery technology.

Ception's lead product is a biologic slated to begin Phase II/III clinical trials in the first half of this year for an undisclosed anti-inflammatory indication. The program also has a second undisclosed component in clinical trials.

Next up in the pipeline is an oral small-molecule anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) program in preclinical development. Discovered at Fulcrum, the small molecules were shown in animal models to disable the TNF receptor and protect against inflammatory pathologies. Fulcrum predicted the compounds also may offer an improved safety profile over existing anti-TNF drugs.

The current market for anti-TNF drugs is estimated at more than $5 billion and includes major players such as Enbrel (etanercept, Amgen Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc.), Remicade (infliximab, Centocor Inc.), Humira (adalimumab, Abbott Laboratories) and others. While those drugs generally are considered to have a favorable risk/benefit ratio, serious side effects such as infections or lymphomas can occur.

Ception's other discovery programs include preclinical candidates for antithrombotic and anti-infective indications. The anti-infective program likely consists of Fulcrum's BAR (beta-lactam activity restoring) compounds, which selectively target methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). A compound previously known as FL-233 was shown to significantly enhance the activity of beta-lactam antibacterial drugs such as oxacillin and cephalosporins in treating MRSA infections. Both programs were discovered at Fulcrum using the company's thermodynamics-based drug design platform to rapidly optimize selectivity and affinity.