Washington Editor

A trio of privately held biotech companies raised equity funding, with QuatRx Pharmaceuticals Co. leading the way with a $31 million, third-round financing.

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company, which has raised more than $67 million in venture capital backing since its incorporation four years ago, plans to direct resources from the oversubscribed funding to expanding its drug programs. Its current portfolio includes three in-licensed compounds, with two of them already in clinical-stage development.

"Our team has been very impressive in its ability to deliver on what we've been given so far, in a sense that we have identified compounds, advanced them very nicely and on time," QuatRx CEO Robert Zerbe told BioWorld Today. "Secondly, I think the investors really like the portfolio and area. In addition, we're actively working on in-licensing other compounds in similar areas - the endocrine, metabolic and cardiovascular areas. Companies like ours are very favorably viewed. Investors like products now, and that's where we are focusing."

The company was founded by four senior executives and scientists formerly with Parke-Davis/Warner Lambert, which was merged with Pfizer Inc., of New York. Its latest funding should keep operations running smoothly through 2006, Zerbe said, and will be used to in-license three or four new products. He noted that discussions are near completion.

Outside of the new funding, existing resources already are earmarked for the further development of QuatRx's pipeline.

Its lead product, QRX-101, is a topical vitamin D analogue for psoriasis expected to enter pivotal Phase III studies next year. It has successfully completed two Phase IIa studies, which proved that the drug does not induce hypercalcemia and demonstrated efficacy at doses of 5 mc/g and 25 mc/g. A Phase IIb trial got under way earlier this year, and is designed to establish further efficacy data through the administration of 75 mc/g both once and twice daily. Enrollment is nearly complete, and results are expected this spring.

"We are having active discussions on out-licensing," Zerbe said. "This would be done to secure a major partner for registration and commercialization."

Elsewhere in QuatRx's pipeline is a pair of products for dyslipidemia. Its lead compound in that program is QRX-401, now in Phase I trials. The product is a non-statin, dual-action, lipid-lowering compound designed to lower LDL cholesterol and Lp(a) cholesterol, both independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Data have shown the drug to be well absorbed and tolerated at single and multiple doses. A third Phase I, scheduled to begin shortly, will test higher doses in a multiple-dose fashion.

Another dyslipidemia therapeutic, QRX-411, is designed to elevate HDL cholesterol. Still in preclinical development, Zerbe said the product is at least a year away from being put into humans.

Both compounds were acquired from ILEX Oncology Inc., of San Antonio. In exchange for rights, QuatRx paid an undisclosed up-front sum to ILEX, which also is due milestone payments as the products advance. (See BioWorld Today, May 22, 2003.)

"We're very pleased with the [overall company] progress," he said, "considering that we really just started with a blank sheet of paper. The investors are a great group of folks, our team is highly experienced and we're very pleased."

Thomas Weisel Healthcare Ventures led the financing, with additional investments by all existing institutional investors: Frazier Healthcare Ventures, of Seattle; TL Ventures, of Wayne, Pa.; MPM Capital, of Boston; InterWest Partners, of Menlo Park, Calif.; Stockwell Capital, of Chicago; and Twilight Ventures, of Indianapolis.

In conjunction with the financing, QuatRx expanded its board to include two new investment group representatives - Weisel's Caley Castelein and InterWest's Chris Ehrlich.

Neotropix Funds Early Operations With $10M

Cancer company Neotropix Inc. raised $10 million in its first round of private equity financing. The funding is projected to carry the Malvern, Pa.-based company's lead product through Phase I/II trials in small-cell lung cancer. Labeled SVV-001, the product is Seneca Valley virus, or SVV. It has shown efficacy in murine cancer models, and human studies are slated to begin in 2006.

Neotropix also plans to target additional cancer indications using derivatives of SVV, the basis of its virotherapy approach from which it expects to develop a therapeutic pipeline, as well as in-licensing or discovering other viruses with beneficial oncolytic properties.

But the company's initial focus lies with SVV, which it said overcomes many of the hurdles typically associated with the development of viral therapies. Its natural properties allow for large-scale manufacturing for clinical trials, and its initial safety and toxicity profiles have proved promising. A lack of pre-existing immunity to SVV, as well as its specificity, allow for systemic administration, a characteristic that has eluded many other virotherapies.

The financing was co-led by the Aurora Funds, of Durham, N.C.; Quaker BioVentures, of Wayne, Pa.; and Vimac Milestone Medica Fund, of Boston. BioAdvance Ventures, a fund managed by Quaker's investment professionals, also participated.

Quaker's Matt Rieke, Aurora's Jeff Clark and Vimac's Sena Biswas joined Neotropix's board. The company was founded last year by Paul Hallenbeck, its president, chief scientific officer and a board member, as well.

Genizon Brings In C$11M To Close Series B

The newly renamed Genizon BioSciences Inc. raised C$11.1 million (US$9 million) in equity funding to close the second tranche of its Series B financing.

The Montreal-based gene and drug target discovery company, formerly called Galileo Genomics Inc., originally planned to bring in C$10 million. Since October 2001, it has received debt and equity financing worth more than C$50 million.

Genizon plans to use its latest funds to identify common disease genes, which it calls GeneMaps, and also to discover drug targets in more than 20 common diseases. To do so, it expects to use the Quebec Linkage Disequilibrium Map, which it recently developed, and more than 30,000 samples collected from the Quebec Founder Population.

GeneMaps development in six common but undisclosed diseases is in progress, and the company plans to move its GeneMaps further down the drug development trail, either internally or in licensing partnerships. In addition to its discoveries of disease pathways and drug targets, the company said it has expanded its capabilities to include downstream pathway analysis and target identification to add value to its business.

The financing was led by a new investor, Solidarity Fund QFL, of Montreal. Existing investment groups that again participated included HBM BioVentures, of Zurich, Switzerland; MVI, of Geneva; Biofund, of Helsinki, Finland; Carnegie, of Stockholm, Sweden; and several private investors.

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