BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The new-look SR Pharma plc raised £10 million (US$17.7 million) to fund development of the RNA interference technology acquired through the £6.3 million reverse takeover of Atugen AG last month.

Of the money, £8.3 million came via a placing with institutional investors, the remainder through a strategic investment from Introgen Therapeutics Inc., of Austin, Texas.

"This gets us on an even keel and moving forward," Iain Ross, CEO, told BioWorld International. "We didn't want to raise too much money at a low price because of dilution." London-based SR Pharma is issuing 43.5 million new shares at 23 pence per share. Introgen will have 8.3 percent of the enlarged share capital.

"I'm not saying £10 million will get us through to market, but now we have enough for two years development," Ross said. Within that time frame he is expecting clinical data on the company's short interfering RNA (siRNA) technology in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). SR Pharma's partner, Quark Biotech Inc., of Fremont, Calif., is preparing an IND for RTP801i, an siRNA construct that has been chemically modified using SR Pharma's atuRNAi technology. That targets RTP801, a gene implicated in hypoxia-induced pathogenesis. Down-regulation of RTP801 in animal models, using siRNA to prevent transcription of the gene, protected against the development in AMD.

"The ophthalmic product uses naked DNA, whereas we are interested in systemic delivery, but it will validate the use of our technology in the clinic," Ross said.

SR Pharma is developing its atuPLEX liposomal technology for systematic delivery of siRNA in cancer, the field in which it will collaborate with Introgen. Ross said the two companies haven't finalized details of the projects they will work on jointly, but they will involve SR Pharma using Introgen's manufacturing capabilities, while Introgen wants to access the atuPLEX technology.

As its siRNA technology progresses to clinical validation, Ross anticipates doing more deals. Unlike the Introgen collaboration, he is aiming to secure cash payments, rather than equity investments. "We have 30 scientists giving us the capacity to work on behalf of partners. I'm not keen on giving equity away."

SR Pharma has a number of oncology candidates in preclinical development, and has demonstrated that siRNA could be used to treat inflammatory and metabolic diseases. While it intends to take its cancer treatments to Phase II before out-licensing, it is aiming to find partners for other therapeutic areas at an earlier stage.

The money raised will allow SR Pharma to revisit the Mycobacterium vaccae immunotherapy products around which the company was formed. "The M. vaccae technology had great Phase II results, but never made it in Phase III. I personally believe it did work in cancer, and we are now in a position to reevaluate M. vaccae in oncology," Ross said.

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