BioWorld International Correspondent

Speedel Group raised CHF47.8 million (US$41 million) in equity funding, most of it from the same network of private investors and specialist investment funds that have supported the company since its formation in 1998.

The Basel, Switzerland-based drug development company has eschewed the classical venture capital funding model in favor of an investor base - primarily from Switzerland and Germany - that takes what it regards as a longer-term view of its development.

The cash moves Speedel's cumulative funding to about CHF227 million, a figure that includes about CHF120 million in debt funding and revenue.

"This signifies confidence by the board and confidence by our investors in what we've done so far," said Speedel Director of Communications Nick Miles. "It does give us that extra bit of flexibility. It doesn't in any way exclude us from doing an IPO."

The company has indicated that it would consider an initial public offering during 2005, if market conditions were favorable. An IPO has always been part of the plan, although its funding model - and the absence of venture capital investors on its board - means that it is not under pressure to provide an exit for investors.

"In this situation, we're in much more control of our own destiny," Miles said.

It plans to use the proceeds on existing pipeline projects, on strengthening its internal R&D capabilities and, potentially, on in-licensing new projects.

Speedel initially built up a pipeline by in-licensing projects from big pharma partners, taking them through early clinical development and then licensing them back out again. Its first such compound, Aliskiren, a first-in-class oral renin inhibitor undergoing a Phase III trial in hypertension, fits that profile. Basel-based Novartis AG, which originally discovered the molecule, is expected to initiate a regulatory filing next year, and Speedel will gain royalties on whatever sales the product generates.

SPP200, a recombinant human protein undergoing a Phase II trial for an undisclosed cardiovascular indication, remains under Speedel's control, but an undisclosed U.S. pharmaceutical firm, which originally discovered the compound, retains a callback option.

Speedel has more control over the rest of its pipeline. It is the outright owner of Avosentan (SPP301), an endothelin receptor antagonist originated by F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., also of Basel, which has completed a Phase II trial.

"We're looking at that Phase II data. We're deciding what to do with it," Miles said.

The company also is planning to commence later this year Phase I studies of its SPP600 series of next-generation oral renin inhibitors, which recently completed early micro-dosing experiments in human subjects.