BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Nautilus Biotech closed a third funding round in which it raised €7.25 million from a group of venture capital funds led by Auriga Partners.

Paris-based Auriga is a new investor in Nautilus, and the round brought in two other first-time investors - 123 Venture, also of Paris, and Creabilis Biotech, of Turin. The company's existing investors, all of which are Paris-based, also participated in the financing. They are Matignon Technologies; Edmond Rothschild Investment Partners; FCJE, a fund managed by the state-owned Caisse des Dép ts et Consignations; and Pre-IPO Invest, the venture capital arm of Banque du Louvre, a subsidiary of the London-based bank HSBC.

The financing brings to €16.6 million the total funding raised by Nautilus Biotech since its creation in 1999. CEO Manuel Vega told BioWorld International that Matignon Technologies remains the company's largest single shareholder, although Auriga Partners now is represented on its board.

Nautilus Biotech, which is based at the Evry-Genopole Bioparc south of Paris, specializes in producing improved proteins, vaccines, enzymes and cell lines using a technology it calls "directed evolution." Its platform embodies a high-throughput, systematized environment for performing protein-directed evolution, protein functional analysis and cell-line optimization.

The company plans to use the latest injection of funds to take its lead product Belerofon, its improved version of interferon-alpha (IFNa), into clinical development and to move its next-generation, long-lasting, non-pegylated IFNa into advanced preclinical development.

Vega said Nautilus planned to file an investigational new drug application with the FDA in the U.S. for its IFNa in the indication of hepatitis C before the end of the year, with plans to initiate a Phase I trial in 2006. The company, which has a U.S. subsidiary in San Mateo, Calif., that is responsible for business development, has no plans for conducting clinical trials in Europe at present.

Nautilus Biotech also is using its protein evolution technology to develop a next-generation human growth hormone (hGH) with an improved pharmacological profile in collaboration with Serono SA. In February Nautilus received its first milestone payment from Geneva-based Serono, only three months after the companies signed a collaboration agreement in mid-November.

Nautilus has designed, generated and tested in vitro a series of proprietary variants of hGH. Each variant carries a specific point mutation that protects the hGH molecule from proteolytic degradation, while retaining the potency of native hGH. Now Serono and Nautilus are jointly characterizing the pharmacokinetic profile and biological activity of the selected variants in animal models of growth hormone deficiency. The agreement gives Serono exclusive right to license variants of the hGH protein generated by Nautilus. The amount of the milestone payment was not disclosed.

Nautilus also generates revenues from service activities, such as supplying third parties with optimized cell lines. Its leading customer is Aventis Pasteur, the Lyon-based vaccines division of Sanofi-Aventis Group, with which Nautilus signed an agreement in September 2002 to develop improved producer cell lines for vaccines being developed for three specific (but undisclosed) targets. The deal includes research funding, milestone payments and royalties on product sales for Nautilus.