BioWorld International Correspondent

Addex Pharmaceuticals SA raised CHF50.5 million (US$39.6 million) in what it called Europe's largest-ever Series B financing round for a biotechnology company.

The Geneva-based firm, which celebrated its second birthday last weekend, will use the proceeds to accelerate the development of its preclinical portfolio of allosteric modulators of target receptors. It also is moving its lead drug candidate, ADX-10061, into a Phase IIa trial for smoking cessation later this year. It in-licensed the compound, a dopamine D1-selective antagonist, from Cambridge, UK-based CeNeS Pharmaceuticals plc in December 2002.

Techno Venture Management, of Munich, Germany, led the round and nominated Alexandra Goll to Addex's board. The syndicate also included PolyTechnos Venture-Partners; Bio*One Capital Pte. Ltd.; Vinci Capital & Renaissance PME; Initiative Capital; and Fulcrum Pharma Development Ltd. First-round investors Index Ventures and Soffinova Partners participated, as well. Addex has raised CHF66 million since its inception.

"According to our burn rate, we have cash to go probably until the end of 2006 - and that's excluding any other news," CEO Vincent Mutel told BioWorld International.

The company's ability to progress its internal projects quickly after its formation was one of the major attractions for investors, Mutel said.

"We have molecules now, which are coming out of our own development," he said. The most advanced homegrown program is about one year from entering human trials for treatment of anxiety, while an undisclosed major pharmaceutical firm is evaluating another compound and is about to undertake proof-of-concept studies in animals.

"We are talking to the largest companies today," Mutel said.

Addex is developing compounds that bind to secondary sites on a target receptor, rather than the primary site to which a natural ligand - such as the neurotransmitter glutamate - would bind. The aim is to find molecules that elicit a conformational change that would optimize receptor activity in disease settings, without leading to the kind of side effects that agonists can trigger by acting on additional receptors.

"We increase the sensitivity of the receptors, which are targets for glutamate, but we don't design drugs that are glutamate-like," Mutel said. The company has a molecular library containing some 40,000 compounds, with a bias toward structures likely to have allosteric-binding effects on receptors.

Addex previously disclosed that it was developing modulators of the glutamatergic receptor mGluR5, but it is keeping the identity of the other targets it is working with under wraps. Mutel said the company's molecular pharmacology platform could potentially be applied to between 10 and 15 targets. It will out-license at an early stage projects that fall outside its core CNS focus.