National Editor

Fresh from a partnership with Forest Laboratories Inc. based on a preclinical chemokine receptor program, ChemoCentryx Inc. raised $33 million through a private financing to pursue such efforts as pushing its own compound for inflammatory bowel disease into Phase II trials this year.

"The money will last us for quite some time," said Markus Cappel, senior vice president of corporate and business development for San Carlos, Calif.-based ChemoCentryx, adding that the company won't seek another round of financing in the "immediate near term," or about two years.

Proceeds will be used to advance ChemoCentryx's small-molecule preclinical and clinical-stage compounds, each targeting specific receptors in the chemokine system. Phase I studies recently wrapped up with the lead drug, Traficet-EN, an unpartnered therapy for irritable bowel disease.

The precise date the Phase II trials would begin is not known.

"That's currently all coming together, so I don't have the specifics on exactly when it might start," Cappel said.

"There's a tremendous unmet need" in that indication, he added, noting that biologics "only work in a certain percentage of patients" and are costly, amounting to $12,000 to $14,000 per year, with potential reimbursement problems.

Other oral candidates in the pipeline target cancer, psoriasis, atherosclerosis and transplant rejection, and ChemoCentryx aims to put one into the clinic every 12 months to 18 months.

Cappel had no exact percentage breakout of how the cash from the financing would be used, but told BioWorld Today: "We'd like to advance some of our late-stage preclinical programs. Our cancer program is very high on the priority list."

ChemoCentryx partner Tularik Inc. (recently taken over by Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc.) is conducting Phase II studies of T487, a CXCR3 antagonist and oral treatment for psoriasis.

The deal with Forest, of New York, is focused on ChemoCentryx's CCR1 receptor antagonist for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. (See BioWorld Today, March 16, 2004.)

Viewed as a controller of immune response, the chemokine system bears receptors that can be targeted for specific responses that avoid suppressing the rest of the body's vital immunity-making arsenal. Chemokines are cytokines produced in acute and chronic inflammation that mobilize and activate white blood cells.

Research in the area has drawn the interest of large pharmaceutical firms, including New York-based Pfizer Inc.; Merck KgaA, of Darmstadt, Germany; and London-based GlaxoSmithKline plc.

The field also is part of a joint venture between Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., and Aventis Pharmaceuticals Inc., a unit of Aventis SA, of Lyon, France. But "we're the company that is solely focused on chemokines," Cappel said. "We're not dealing with antibodies and we're not working on proteins."

HBM BioVentures, of Zurich, Switzerland, and Alta Partners, of San Francisco, acted as significant new investors in the latest round, ChemoCentryx said. Additional participants included new investors GIMV, of Antwerp, Belgium, and Hanseatic, of New York, as well as returning investors Techne Corp., of Minneapolis; OrbiMed Advisors, of New York; HealthCap, of Stockholm, Sweden; and Pictet, of Geneva.