BioWorld International Correspondent

Xigen SA raised CHF26 million (US$21.1 million) in a Series A round to bring XG-102, a peptide-based stroke therapy, through proof-of-concept studies in man and to advance an early stage portfolio of oncology products toward the clinic.

The Lausanne, Switzerland-based company, which was spun out of Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in 2002, had raised CHF1 million in seed funding, CEO Didier Coquoz told BioWorld International. Participants included Luxembourg-based Tilocor Life Sciences; Initiative Capital, of Lausanne; and seed investor Venture Incubator Partners, of Zug, Switzerland. The company has a post-money valuation of CHF32 million, Coquoz said. It aims to be at CHF150 million to CHF300 million by 2008, when it plans to complete efficacy studies.

"What I wanted to have was a sound financial position so we can concentrate on the development of the products and the development of the company, so we can make a quantum jump," he said.

The company's lead program is due to enter the clinic during the first half of next year. XG-102 is a cell-penetrating, protease-resistant neuroprotectant, which acts by blocking the c-Jun N-terminal Kinase (JNK) mediated apoptosis pathway.

"In neuronal cells, it is one of the main, if not the main, apoptosis-signaling pathways," Coquoz said. XG-102 consists of two domains, a 20-amino-acid effector element, derived from islet-brain 1 protein (IB1) and a 10-amino-acid transporter element, which increases the efficiency of the peptide's migration across the blood-brain barrier and across neuronal cell membranes.

IB1, which Xigen's chief scientific officer, Christophe Bonny, and CHUV colleagues identified in 1998, is a scaffold protein involved in the activation of JNK. The peptide fragment derived from IB1 blocks its binding site on JNK and prevents the protein-protein interaction required to activate the JNK-mediated apoptotic pathway. The peptide is in a D isomeric configuration, to increase its resistance to protease degradation, Coquoz said.

In two animal models of stroke, XG-102 demonstrated a minimum 90 percent reduction in brain lesion volume six hours after experimental occlusion of a cerebral artery. As stroke is not diagnosed quickly, that time lag is an important factor in the design of effective stroke therapy, Coquoz said. Annually, more than 2 million people in the U.S. and Europe combined have a stroke, he said, and more than half are left with a mild to severe handicap. Xigen has estimated the value of the market at €500 million to €900 million, Coquoz said.

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