Sequoia Pharmaceuticals Inc., which is developing products for drug-resistant viral infections, raised its largest sum to date, $22 million, in a Series B round.

The financing represents the first institutional round for the Gaithersburg, Md.-based company, which has brought in $6 million since its 2002 inception through angel investors.

Gary Altman, the company's chief operating officer, said the financing was "critical" for the company to move forward with its programs.

"The funding is important," he told BioWorld Today, "in that it will allow us to take our first drug into clinical trials in the first quarter of 2006."

The money will cover early stage clinical trials of Sequoia's drug designed to combat wild-type and multidrug-resistant strains of HIV, and to continue two additional drug discovery and development programs.

Sequoia's Resistant-Repellent HIV protease inhibitor has shown efficacy in preclinical tests.

"It is a novel HIV protease inhibitor, which is designed to be effective against not only wild-type HIV, but most of the drug-resistant mutants of HIV," Altman said.

Data have demonstrated efficacy against more than 95 percent of the drug-resistant HIV mutants isolated from patients who were failing highly active anti-retroviral therapy. Those results were highlighted in December at the meeting for Frontiers in Drug Development for Antiretroviral Therapy.

The Series B funding should take the company through proof-of-concept studies, or last about two years, Altman said, "which should be enough time for us to see positive results in our clinical trials."

Sequoia also has initiated preclinical tests of a Resistant-Repellent drug to combat hepatitis C, and of a Molecular Cloaking technology designed to confer better pharmacokinetic profiles on therapeutic agents. The cloaking technology was unveiled in October at the American Society for Microbiology's 44th Annual International Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, held in Washington.

Sequoia's focus is to find drugs that address issues of drug-resistant infectious disease. Most anti-infective drugs were designed to block the most prevalent form of a pathogen, but those drugs will become obsolete due to the emergence of drug-resistant mutations.

The company's discovery team is led by John Erickson, its chief scientific officer, who founded the antiviral program at Abbott Laboratories, of Abbott Park, Ill., in the 1980s. He also pursued structure-based drug design at the National Cancer Institute in the 1990s. His scientific team from NCI makes up the core of Sequoia's senior scientists.

The financing was led by Health Care Ventures, of Cambridge, Mass., and included investments from Sofinnova Partners, of Paris; Aberdare Ventures, of San Francisco; and the Wellcome Trust, of London.