BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Oxagen Ltd. sealed its transition from a genomics boutique to a drug discovery and development operation, raising $59.8 million in the first funding round since it attracted £30 million at the height of the genomics boom in December 2000.

The proceeds will be used to advance the lead program, OG9101, a small-molecule anti-inflammatory for treating asthma, into the clinic, and to expand the clinical and preclinical portfolio.

The round was led by MPM Capital LP, of Boston, in its first UK investment. Other new investors are Bessemer Venture Partners, IBT and Red Abbey, while all the previous investors followed on.

Mark Payton, CEO, told BioWorld International: "It's been a very competitive environment. We think it is a huge achievement and given the dollar/pound exchange rate, it is unusual to find a U.S. lead investor in a private European biotech funding."

From its inception in 1997, Abingdon, UK-based Oxagen built large collections of tissue and blood samples and clinical data from disease-affected families covering nine common diseases, which it used for gene hunting. Its projects included the world's largest study of the genetics of endometriosis, based on 1,300 families with at least two affected sisters in each.

After a rationalization program that began in mid-2002, the company has emerged as a specialist in G protein-coupled receptor targets in inflammatory diseases.

"The aim was always to deliver validated targets for drug discovery, not to be a fee-for-services company, as was the case for other genomics start-ups," Payton said. "We have transitioned from a pure genetics play, but our genetics foundation has not been discarded. I'm still a believer in genetics as the route to validating targets and still believe that genetics will deliver a paradigm shift in drug discovery."

The GPCR targets that Oxagen is working with are in the public domain. However, Payton said that "not many people know these targets are associated with inflammation, and that is the strength of our approach."

The new funding will enable Oxagen to take OG9101 to Phase IIb. The aim of the project is to deliver an orally available small molecule that is taken daily. Some of the company's other targets are more amenable to antibodies or protein drugs.

The $59.8 million will fund Oxagen for the next four years, in which time it aims to have four products with proof of principle.

"The funding also gives us a war chest. We have a lot of genetically validated targets, and we know there are molecules out there that we could in-license for development against them," Payton said.