BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Start-up Chroma Therapeutics Ltd. secured the services of Ian Nicholson, currently director of business development at the UK's largest biotechnology company, Celltech Group plc, as its new CEO, and moved to close a first funding round of £10 million (US$17.7 million).

Nicholson will join Chroma, a specialist in chromatin biology, Sept. 1. Meanwhile, Celltech has made public its acceptance of UCB SA's offer to acquire the firm in a deal valued at $2.7 billion.

Nicholson said he was attracted to Chroma, based in Abingdon, UK, because chromatin biology is emerging as one of the most exciting areas of science. Chromatin is the storage form of genes in human cells and its structure determines whether a gene can be expressed. Chroma is looking for small-molecule inhibitors of chromatin-modifying enzymes that control chromatin structure. Because they are central to gene expression, those enzymes are emerging as an important class of druggable targets in oncology.

Chroma has one compound, CHR 2797, that has completed preclinical trials and will enter Phase I in the next few months. Two small molecules are expected to advance into clinical trials within the next two years.

"The portfolio is pretty advanced for a company that is only just starting out," Nicholson said.

Alan Drummond, Chroma's founding CEO, will become chief scientific officer once Nicholson joins. The other founding scientists, Tony Kouzarides, David Allis and Paul Workman, have identified several of the enzymes involved in regulating chromatin structure.

Chroma announced also that Raj Parekh, former chief scientific officer of Oxford GlycoSciences plc and now at Abingworth Management Ltd., Chroma's main venture capital backer, is to become chairman.

Nicholson said the £10 million funding would last until the end of 2006. Chroma raised £1.5 million from Abingworth and Cancer Research Ventures when it was set up in 2001.