Washington Editor

Landing its largest investment to date, Endocyte Inc. raised $22.6 million in a follow-on to its Series C round of financing.

The West Lafayette, Ind.-based company plans to use the funds to support clinical trials of its receptor-targeted cancer and autoimmune products. Its president and CEO, Ron Ellis, said development progress in the past year-plus attracted the most recent backing.

"I think that keeping our existing investors in all rounds shows confidence in what the company is doing and the progress it has made," he told BioWorld Today. "There are two products in clinical trials right now, and I know everyone says this, but they are very novel."

Founded in 1996 on technology spun out of Perdue University, the company has raised about $48.7 million in private funding to date. And last month, it received more than $3.5 million in federal and state grants.

Endocyte said its receptor-targeted therapeutics, labeled "smart drugs," are designed to reduce side effects by targeting drugs to receptors of the vitamin folate present on diseased cells. Ellis said about 40 percent to 50 percent of cancer cells, and 80 percent of metastatic cancer cells, up-regulate the folate receptor to bring it into a cancer cell. The company's research is focused on linking drugs to the vitamin to take an active agent inside the cancer cell.

Its most-advanced program involves the use of a small molecule called FolateScan for diagnostic imaging purposes. Specifically, it is used to find out whether a patient has the folate receptor on the cancer cells. It has completed Phase II testing in patients with a variety of solid tumors, with data expected in a few months, and also has been used as a screening tool for patient inclusion in a study of Endocyte's lead therapeutic product.

"As far as I know, this is the first diagnostic imaging agent being used in that way," Ellis said. "We were talking with the FDA yesterday to set up some meetings to help prepare a pathway, since no one has ever used an [imaging] agent this way."

The therapeutic product, FolateImmune, is the subject of a Phase I trial slated to enroll 50 patients to 60 patients with renal-cell carcinoma. Designed to establish safety and dosing schedules, the testing is expected to conclude in June.

The product uses folate to target hatpin to the tumor cell, inducing an immune attack. Preclinical findings showed that use of the drug induced two positive outcomes: First, there was an elimination of established tumors in all animals, and second, animals developed immune resistance to the same cancer after the tumor's removal.

In addition to funding both clinical programs under way at Endocyte, Ellis said the latest financing also is earmarked for two preclinical programs.

The company is developing a therapeutic for autoimmune indications. He said preclinical data have been positive to date, and the product is expected to advance into the clinic late next year.

Another preclinical program at Endocyte is focused on tumor-targeted chemotherapeutics, the platform for which the company received the government funding last month. An award of about $1.6 million from the National Cancer Institute will be dispersed over a three-year period, while a state grant from the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund will be spread over two years.

The private financing was led by Burrill & Co., of San Francisco, and included new investors Blue Chip Venture Co., of Cincinnati; Triathlon Venture Partners, also of Cincinnati; and Twilight Venture Partners, of Indianapolis. Returning investors included Sanderling Venture Partners, of San Mateo, Calif.; Cincinnati Financial Corp., of Cincinnati; and American Bailey Ventures, of Stamford, Conn.

Both Burrill & Co. and Triathlon receive funding from the $73 million capital pool called the Indiana Future Fund I, which was organized last year by a life sciences initiative in central Indiana called BioCrossroads.

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