A spinout from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, DCV Technologies Inc. is working to secure its seed financing as it focuses on developing cancer vaccines.

Founded in 2001, the Little Rock, Ark.-based company gained an exclusive worldwide license to technologies developed at the university. It currently has one clinical program for cervical cancer, and two other preclinical programs for ovarian and prostate cancers that could move into Phase I studies over the next 12 to 18 months.

The company has existed solely on grants.

"Our total funding is about $2.5 million, so it's enough for us to progress comfortably, but not to expand the company operations to the level we'd like," said Martin Cannon, DCV's vice president and director of research and development and a company co-founder. "There's no question that the shortage of cash is holding us up to further trials at this point."

Cannon, who is an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the university, founded the company with his colleagues Timothy O'Brien and Alessandro Santin. O'Brien identified a number of tumor antigens in ovarian, breast, pancreatic, colon and prostate cancers, to name a few, and the university gained patent coverage. DCV evolved with the combination of O'Brien's antigen-discovery program, Cannon's immunological expertise and Santin's work in clinical oncology.

"It's very much born out of partly our wish to avail ourselves of what we see as an opportunity and a niche in the market, and also the university's desire to foster a more entrepreneurial spirit," Cannon said.

The company initially is focusing on dendritic-cell vaccines to treat gynecological malignancies and prostate cancer. Its method involves recovering dendritic cells from patients, treating them with the target antigen, and then injecting the dendritic cells back inside the patients.

"It's very, very easy on the patient," Cannon told BioWorld Today. "Our experience is the toxicity and side effects are going to be minimal, which is in stark contrast to chemotherapy or radiation."

DCV does not intend to replace chemotherapy or radiation with its therapies, but to use them as adjuvants or follow-up treatments with people who are relatively healthy with minimal disease.

"The goal is to prevent cancer progression or recurrence," Cannon said. "If we can do that, we can save the patient from a very unpleasant treatment."

It already has one vaccine in the clinic, a treatment for cervical cancer that moved into Phase I/II trials following FDA approval of an investigational new drug application in March 2001. That trial is funded by a National Cancer Institute grant.

At the preclinical stage, DCV is working on a vaccine to treat ovarian cancer, as well as a treatment for prostate cancer, which is undergoing in vitro testing. The company expects that both products will move into Phase I trials in late 2005 or early 2006.

As part of its business strategy, the company intends to take its products through Phase II trials, and then partner them with a large pharmaceutical company for Phase III trials. Another option to fund the later-stage trials would be to conduct an initial public offering, but Cannon said the products probably are four to five years from reaching Phase III work. Right now, he's focusing on a seed financing, which will take the products through Phase II trials, while the company continues to conduct preclinical research. He hopes to have it in place by the end of the year.

The company has four employees, its three founders and Slaton Fry, its president.

"As soon as we have enough money in the bank, we'll lease space from an incubator building," Cannon said. The building is located on the edge of the university's campus and DCV's space will include a GMP-level laboratory.

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