BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Chromatin biology specialist Chroma Therapeutics raised $53 million in a third-round funding, enabling it to move the lead program CHR-2797 through Phase II studies and get two other compounds into the clinic.

The round was led by Nomura Phase4 Ventures, with existing backers, Abingworth Management, Essex Woodlands Healthcare Ventures, Gilde Healthcare and the Wellcome Trust all following on.

Richard Bungay, chief financial officer, told BioWorld International: "We did rather well, as this was more than we looked to raise. Timing-wise, this will last us for three years and get CHR-2797 through to Phase II proof of concept in solid and hematological cancers. That will be a big milestone in terms of valuation, and we hope it will be the springboard to an IPO."

CHR-2797, a first-in-class aminopeptidase inhibitor, entered Phase I trials in October 2004 in patients with advanced refractory or metastatic tumors. The monotherapy trial still is under way, and Chroma intends to initiate further Phase I trials in combination therapy in solid tumors and as a monotherapy in hematological cancers during 2006.

Over the life of the funding, the Oxford-based company aims to take two other products, an aurora kinase inhibitor and a histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDAC), into the clinic. It will take a histone methyltransferase inhibitor and a glyoxalase inhibitor into preclinical development, also.

"There have recently been some big-ticket deals on compounds like these, and we are getting a lot of unsolicited approaches. We are not currently looking to partner, though we would, of course, if the right deal came up," Bungay said.

Chroma said its pipeline addresses all the key validated chromatin targets, and each compound has a different mechanism of action. It also has developed a drug enhancement strategy, to increase the level of intracellular delivery of active drugs. That involves attaching a chemical motif that helps the active drug get into the cell but then is cleared, marooning the drug and allowing it to accumulate over time, to increase potency and duration of action.

A subset of those chemical motifs can be used to target macrophages.

"We expect this to be of value in our inflammatory disease programs," Bungay said. The company intends to develop an HDAC inhibitor in treating inflammatory diseases that will be structurally distinct from its HDAC oncology candidate.

Chroma raised £1.5 million (US$2.6 million) when it was set up in 2001 to commercialize chromatin biology research carried out by Tony Kouzarides at Cambridge University and Paul Workman of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, who had identified several chromatin-modifying enzymes. Those enzymes are designed to impact multiple aspects of tumor progression, including proliferation, angiogenesis and invasion, and are involved in cytokine activity in inflammatory diseases, also.

In May 2004, Chroma raised £10 million in its second round, subsequently boosting the round by another £5 million in December 2004.