West Coast Editor

With a new name and Phase I trials under way to test its product for colorectal cancer, Celator Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised $40 million in one of the larger venture capital financings of late.

Andrew Janoff, CEO of Princeton, N.J.-based Celator, said the "extraordinary level of interest" recognizes the firm's bid to create a "new medical standard" by combining chemotherapies in exact, maximally effective ratios.

Lead product CPX-1, for example, is irinotecan and floxuridine in a 1-to-1, "locked-in" ratio that has proved synergistic, he said.

"In the past, clinicians haven't recognized the role that ratios play in chemotherapies, and they also didn't have the technology available to maintain those ratios systemically," he said, and simply combined "agents of non-overlapping toxicities, so each drug could be given at its maximum dose."

Formerly known as Celator Technologies Inc., Janoff's firm bases its combination chemo agents on the CombiPlex platform, which has yielded CPX-1, undergoing Phase I trials at the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver and at McGill University in Montreal, as well as CPX-351, targeting acute myeloid leukemia, and a third compound against either lung or head and neck cancer.

The $40 million gives Celator enough cash to operate "into 2007," Janoff said. Funds will bring CPX-1 through Phase II, get CPX-351 into Phase II, and start Phase I trials with the third compound, which will emerge from platinum-based compounds being studied preclinically.

"We start with generic combinations that are already approved, but building on this we'll focus on new combinations of existing drugs, and then combinations derived from entirely new agents," Janoff said, noting that the approach gives the company "an almost unlimited pipeline" with limited risk at the outset, since Celator is using combinations with toxicity profiles that already are understood, he said.

"We've been fund-raising for about a year," Janoff told BioWorld Today. The firm last made major news at the start of 2003, when venture capitalists put $6.8 million into the company. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 27, 2003.)

Since then, Janoff said, Celator has been working on its products, increasing its presence in New Jersey, and building out facilities in Vancouver to pursue a line of research that first deploys liposomal delivery but eventually will include polymers and nanotechnology. Combining stable, synergistic forms of cancer therapies apparently has not been tried before, at least not the way Celator is going about it.

"We think we're alone," Janoff said of the company, spun out of the British Columbia Cancer Agency in 2000.

The financing includes first-time investments in Celator from Domain Associates, of Princeton, N.J.; Quaker BioVentures and TL Ventures, both of Wayne, Pa.; as well as previous investors Ventures West and GrowthWorks Capital, both of Vancouver; and the Business Development Bank of Canada in Montreal.

As part of the fund raising, Brenda Gavin from Quaker, Marc Ostro from TL and Nicole Vitullo from Domain are joining Celator's board.