BioWorld International Correspondent

In a second closing of its Series A round, 4-Antibody AG banked CHF17 million (US$13.6 million) to expand its scientific staff and accelerate growth

The cash is in addition to the CHF6 million it raised last August and will strengthen the company's foundations, CEO Sijmen de Vries told BioWorld International, and enable it to accelerate its internal development programs.

"When we had closed that round, we did get a lot of reaction from people, and we had an agreement [with our investors that] we would raise more to broaden the syndicate," he said. The Basel, Switzerland-based company, with a staff of 20, will hire between 10 and 15 more scientific staff to enable it to work on several programs in parallel. The company now is funded for the next three years, de Vries said.

The round was led by London-based Advent Venture Partners, along with the two lead investors from the earlier transaction, Basel-based Biomedinvest AG and Stuttgart, Germany-based Grazia Equity GmbH. Previous investors Amsterdam, the Netherlands-based Life Sciences Partners and Mulligan Biocapital AG, of Hamburg, Germany, and several private investors also participated. "The valuation improved - not dramatically but nicely," de Vries said.

4-Antibody is commercializing a proprietary platform called 4mAb for producing fully human monoclonal antibodies, which originally was developed at the University of Basel.

It involves genetically engineering murine precursor B-lymphocytes to express human antibody heavy and light chains. The genetically altered cells are transferred into mice that lack their own B-lymphocytes and are then exposed to the T-cell-mediated affinity maturation process of the mammalian immune system, whereby B-cells expressing high-affinity antibodies are expanded following successive cycles of somatic hypermutation and clonal selection.

The technology can be deployed for developing novel antibodies, including antibodies targeting highly conserved antigens, which are beyond the scope of transgenic mouse antibody platforms, said de Vries. It also can be used for optimizing existing antibodies, which is 4-Antibody's principal focus at present.

The company currently is setting up a handful of internal development programs in areas like oncology and autoimmune disease, with a view to seeking development and licensing partners for some of them in about 18 to 24 months. "As soon as we have preclinical proof-of-concept experiments in our hands we will have to explore what the level of interest in the market is," de Vries said.

The company will, for the most part, limit access to the actual platform. "To a limited extent, we wouldn't be averse to having some licensing partners for certain applications of the technology," he said. That could apply to certain indications or to companies with proprietary positions with respect to particular targets.