National Editor

Hailing the fund raising as a "transforming event," Idun Pharmaceuticals Inc. said it has closed the first tranche of a $65.6 million financing, putting into the bank $27 million through a preferred-stock private placement.

The cash gives San Diego-based Idun enough to operate for "at least a couple of years," said Steven Mento, president and CEO. When the rest of the money comes, likely "around the end of next year," the firm will have a couple of years' more of fuel.

"If we chose to maintain the developing activities on our own, [the $27 million] should be able to take us up to Phase III for the oral formulation" of IDN-6556, a caspase inhibitor the company is pursuing for liver conditions, Mento said, adding that the "vast majority" of the money will go toward advancing that compound.

In October, Idun started a Phase IIb trial of the injected form of IDN-6556 in patients undergoing liver transplants, to evaluate whether the apoptosis-blocker could decrease the cellular liver damage that can occur during the transport and transplant periods. (The donor liver gets the drug during transport to the transplant center, and so does the liver recipient.)

The drug "has both anti-inflammatory and anti-cell-death properties, because caspases are involved in both of those processes," and seems promising in the blocking of events that trigger fibrosis, he said.

"We believe it has broad applications in hepatitis due to a variety of insults, fatty liver disease being one, alcohol abuse and so on," Mento said. "The surrogate measure of liver damage we're looking at is reduction of liver enzymes," which is the standard test, he added. "We've seen that reduction in all of the populations tested so far."

Liver disease is not the only area of focus for Idun, Mento said. A drug that takes aim at inflammation is about to begin studies that would enable an investigational new drug application, "probably focusing on respiratory disease," he said.

"We have a third drug we're developing now that we hope to [have] in the clinic in 2005 for solid tumors," Mento told BioWorld Today, allowing that the pipeline might "seem a lot on the plate for a small company, but all these drugs are targeting proteins that we've been studying for a number of years, associated with cell death and inflammation. They're more related than you would think."

Founded in 1993, the company has 52 employees. The financing was led by MPM Capital, of Boston. Other new investors included Sutter Hill Ventures, of Palo Alto, Calif.; Prospect Venture Partners, also of Palo Alto; Pacific Rim Ventures, of Denver; and Aberdare Ventures, of San Francisco.

As part of the financing, Luke Evnin from MPM Capital and Jeffrey Bird from Sutter Hill Ventures will join Idun's board, bringing the total number of board members to six.

"We really are ecstatic, not only with the investment base but the experience they bring to the field," Mento said.