BioWorld International Correspondent

Biolipox AB, a firm developing anti-inflammatory drugs based on its knowledge of arachidonic acid metabolic pathways, disclosed Monday that it raised $41 million in a Series C round led by Scandinavian Life Science Venture.

The fund raising took just four months to complete, CEO and President Torbjörn Bjerke told BioWorld International. The process, he said, was accelerated by the implosion of COX-2 inhibitors as a drug class, which began in late September.

Biolipox, Bjerke said, will use the cash primarily to advance two preclinical development programs, each focusing on a novel target within the field of arachidonic acid metabolism. Arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid, is stored in cell membranes and released in response to a number of stimuli. It is metabolized via the cyclooxygenase (COX) pathway to form prostaglandins, a type of signal molecule with numerous biological roles, including the promotion of inflammation, and via the lipooxygenase pathway to form leukotrienes, which are targeted by a number of asthma medications.

Biolipox is developing inhibitors of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) synthase, a downstream enzyme in the COX pathway that catalyzes the conversion of an intermediate compound to the pro-inflammatory mediator PGE2.

"We believe this leaves the physiologically important prostaglandins intact," Bjerke said. The company hopes that focusing on that target will eliminate the adverse effects seen with rofecoxib (Vioxx) and celecoxib (Celebrex), both of which targeted the COX-2 enzyme, further upstream in the pathway. "PGE2 synthase is a very distal target in the prostaglandin pathway," he said.

The company has a second anti-inflammatory drug development program, based on its proprietary knowledge of a third arachidonic acid pathway, discovered by its scientific founders, Hans-Erik Claesson and Magnus Björkholm at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Details of their discovery have not yet been published, but the pathway leads to the formation of mediators known as eoxins, which appear to play a role in inflammatory processes associated with respiration.

"We are at the moment focused on one enzyme," Bjerke said. "There could be several targets. It's a big area."

Each preclinical program is about 18 months from entering clinical trials, he said. However, the company is open to out-licensing deals, if the terms are sufficiently attractive. The company also is seeking a partner for a Phase II compound it licensed from NicOx SA, of Sophia-Antipolis, France, as a treatment for rhinitis. The product, which is available as a nasal spray, is intended to relieve symptoms without causing drowsiness. The company is finalizing data from a Phase II time-of-onset study, Bjerke said.

Biolipox now has raised €56.5 million (US$74.3 million) since its formation in 2000 and it has sufficient funding to take it into 2007. All of the other participants in the current transaction, including HealthCap, Apax Partners, Sofinnova Partners, Auriga Partners and Crédit Lyonnais Private Equity, were existing investors.

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