BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Xention Discovery Ltd. raised £11 million (US$19.3 million) in its third funding round, giving the ion channel specialist the means to start clinical trials of its lead product in the coming first quarter.

Tim Brears, CEO, told BioWorld International: "We had a good reception, even though we are relatively early stage. It's good to have got this funding round done."

New investors are ABN AMRO Capital, of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Credit Agricole Private Equity, of Paris. Existing investors MVM, Quester, BTG International, Isis Equity Partners, Albany Ventures and Enterprise VCT, all participated. Sander Slootweg, of ABM AMRO, commented, "Since its inception, and in record time, the company has developed a broad pipeline of highly interesting ion channel modulators with blockbuster potential."

Xention's lead program is in atrial fibrillation, the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia. The aim is to produce a small-molecule drug that can be used for long-term maintenance of a regular heartbeat in patients with a history of the disorder.

The £11 million should last two and a half years, enabling the Cambridge-based company to take the product through to Phase II and partnering.

Xention has two other compounds, for treating pain and Type II diabetes, in lead optimization. Brears said that within the scope of the new funding, it expects advancing those to clinical trials in the next 18 months to two years, and to start two further projects.

While ion channels are highly druggable, they are under-exploited as targets because of inadequate discovery technologies. Xention has built an integrated ion channel discovery platform around AutoPatch, a technology that measures currents across membranes, enabling compounds to be screened for their ability to modulate ion channel targets directly. Complimenting that is an ion channel compound library, expertise in ion channel gene families and a chemoinformatics database.

"The atrial fibrillation program has proved our technology and approach to finding modulators of ion channels. Based on that experience, the portfolio will build up rapidly from now," Brears said. Xention is working on epilepsy, dementia, depression and bipolar disorder, also. "We are focusing very carefully on disease areas where the targets are validated," Brears said.

Xention was founded in 2002 around the AutoPatch technology that was formerly owned by CeNeS Pharmaceuticals plc. It raised £4 million at its inception, followed by £3 million in September 2003. CeNeS retains option rights to candidates for treating pain arising from Xention's research.

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