BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Oncodesign is gearing up to start clinical trials of its first drug candidates next year, having established a comprehensive screening and development platform for identifying potentially active molecules.

The company's in-house research programs are focused on therapies, which overcome resistance mechanisms that remain unresponsive to current treatments. It provides evaluation services to third parties, and last year revenues rose to €4.8 million, up from €3.8 million. CEO Philippe Genne told BioWorld International that he expects revenues to top €5 million in 2005.

Moreover, Oncodesign is profitable. That said, its post-tax rate of profit dipped to 3 percent last year from 7 percent in 2003 due to increased investment in research facilities and equipment, but Genne anticipates a recovery to 5 percent or more in 2005.

Oncodesign was founded in 1995 and is based in Djion. In November it moved into a new 3,000-square-meter headquarters that incorporates five laboratories - formulation, bio-analytical, cellular biology, molecular biology and histopathology - as well as a 700-square-meter animal husbandry facility equipped with an integrated imaging center that can accommodate between 8,000 and 10,000 rodents. The company employs 50 people.

The new head office accounted for a large part of the company's increased capital spending in 2004. During 2004-2006, Oncodesign has budgeted to invest €3.6 million for its new headquarters and research facilities, €3.8 million on research and development activities, and €1.5 million on equipment.

To finance that, Oncodesign raised €2 million in a funding round completed in October 2003. Half of the funds were provided by France's National Research Promotion Agency (Anvar) and the other half by two Paris-based venture capital funds - CDC-Innovation and Avenir et Entreprises. But Genne still controls 80 percent of the company's equity.

He added that the company planned another funding round in 2006, when it would seek to raise between €5 million and €10 million. The additional funding is required "for the development of the company's in-house projects as far as the clinical phase," he said.

Oncodesign's screening platform consists of more than 300 experimental models of tumor cells or tissues grafted in mice or rats to represent a specific type of cancer, which the company has developed and validated for their strong correlation with human cancer pathology. It has its own banks of human and animal tumor cells and experimental mouse and nude rat models.

The company's know-how in animal experimentation spans orthotopic surgery, continuous I.V. infusion, administration modes, rat physiology, irradiation, scintigraphy and magnetic resonance imaging. The company claims that the imaging center integrated within its new animal husbandry facility gives it an in vivo technological platform that is unique in Europe.

Oncodesign has focused its orthotopic models on the nude rat, which has an immunotolerance that allows the transplant of human cancer without rejection. After being tested in mice, the most efficient compounds are tested in rats, permitting the use of imaging and easier analysis of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.

The association of imaging techniques and nude rat models enables Oncodesign to establish a link between the molecule, the model and the patient. The company's in vivo imaging tools can monitor the molecular modifications brought about by treatment and provide early visualization of the activity of therapies in animals. The techniques result in a reduction in the number of animals sacrificed to evaluate the activity of a product.

Genne said Oncodesign has the ability to evaluate cancer drugs "from the cell to man." In addition to its own facilities, the company has an arrangement with a nearby cancer center for the conduct of Phase I trials. That means Oncodesign can offer a comprehensive screening and evaluation service spanning the whole drug discovery cycle, from animal studies and the identification of targets and leads to lead optimization and testing in the clinic.

The company provides those services to 140 customers in 15 countries and said it has identified five molecules for five companies. Oncodesign's in-house research programs are targeting both therapeutic and prophylactic treatments for cancer and are aimed at identifying molecules and proteins that either encourage apoptosis or inhibit cell proliferation. Oncodesign does not possess an in-house chemistry capability, and Genne said the company was negotiating with different companies that could provide the service under a collaborative arrangement.

The company has recruited a managing director, Bertrand Merot, formerly CEO of Meristem Therapeutics, the Clermont-Ferrand-based plant recombinant protein company. Genne said Merot would be responsible in particular for the negotiation of development deals with third parties that entailed the transfer of IP.

Oncodesign already is engaged in research collaborations with companies such as Nucleis, of Lyon; Ipsogen SAS, of Marseille; Idéalp'Pharma, of Lyon; and Debiopharm, of Lausanne, Switzerland.

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