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Synta Pharmaceuticals Corp. closed a $40 million round of convertible preferred share equity financing to push the ongoing Phase IIa studies with its lead anti-inflammatory drug STA-5326 (apilimod mesylate), as well as cancer compounds in earlier stages.

"We have six programs, and how much we use the capital for the different programs is going to depend on the data for those programs, which we'll get over the next six months or so," said Safi Bahcall, president and CEO of Lexington, Mass.-based Synta, adding that the firm's total available cash should last about two years.

STA5326 is a first-in-class oral inhibitor of interleukin-12 and IL-23 that in May started Phase IIa trials in rheumatoid arthritis and common variable immunodeficiency (CVID). A Phase IIb study in Crohn's disease started earlier.

Scientists recognize the IL-12 cytokine family as the regulator of the TH1 pathway, which drives major chronic inflammatory disorders, including RA, Crohn's, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and the gastrointestinal manifestations of CVID.

All are markets with "tremendous unmet need for an oral drug with good efficacy and good safety," Bahcall noted. "RA is certainly the largest market, but Crohn's and CVID are also very underserved."

The TNF-alpha class of drugs has been successful, but with "some pretty severe side effects," he added.

Cancer drugs in the clinical pipeline include STA-4783 in Phase II and STA-5312, finishing Phase I trials. Bahcall described the first compound as a "broad-based anticancer agent for solid tumors." The second is the subject of two "all comer" Phase I studies, one in solid tumors and one in hematologic disease.

For its overall efforts in small molecules, Synta has raised about $200 million in private financing since 2002. Bahcall credited the promise of oral drugs, but also Synta's business model.

"There aren't that many companies that have pretty significant portfolios that are internally developed," he said. "All of our drugs we developed on our own."

In other financing news:

• Alder Biopharmaceuticals Inc., of Bothell, Wash., raised $16 million in a Series B financing to advance its antibody work. The company made news late last year with a collaborative alliance with Schering-Plough Corp., of Kenilworth, N.J., to use Alder's yeast production system and high-throughput antibody selection system to identify and produce antibodies more rapidly and cost effectively. For each of the 10 therapeutic products developed under the alliance, Alder gets milestone payments, research support and royalties. H.I.G. Ventures led the latest round and was joined by existing investors Sevin Rosen Funds, Ventures West and WRF Capital. Aaron Davidson, managing director of H.I.G. Ventures, is joining the board of Alder, a privately held firm founded in 2004. Last summer, the company's Series A financing raised $11 million. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 16, 2005.)

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