National Editor

MaxCyte Inc. raised $10.7 million in a private placement of Series B preferred stock to push its early stage therapeutic programs in cancer and genetic diseases, as well as a nonviral cell-loading system already on the market.

With partner Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, MaxCyte expects to start Phase I/II trials with their cell therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia in the first half of this year.

The company's moneymaking device, MaxCyte GT, is a continuous-flow cell-loading system for the insertion of molecules into cells.

"We provide the technology to companies who have bioactive molecules and are looking for a delivery method," said Doug Doerfler, president and CEO of Rockville, Md.-based MaxCyte, noting that the company is sometimes referred to as a gene therapy firm but is more correctly characterized as a gene-based cell therapy company, since genes are used to modify cells.

"The idea of having a single administration of a gene to cure disease is obviously attractive, but we're not sure it's something [viable] in the near term," he said.

Touted as a "reinvention" of static electroporation with efficiency and cell viability previously unheard of, the MaxCyte GT machine - which has been on the market for about a year - guides a large number of cells through a narrow chamber, thus gaining better transfection rates, too. Electrical pulses along with cooling procedures for the cells achieve viability rates of more than 90 percent.

Seven U.S. patents have been issued for the system and more than 30 are pending in the U.S. and overseas.

MaxCyte's partners for the technology so far are Northern Therapeutics Inc. and Angiogene Inc., both of Montreal. The deal with Northern Therapeutics involves pulmonary diseases and the agreement with Angiogene is focused on developing a recuperative treatment for congestive heart failure caused by myocardial infarction. (See BioWorld Today, July 11, 2002, and Feb. 5, 2003.)

With its in-house projects, Doerfler said, the strategy is to advance drugs into the early stages of clinical work and then license them out.

In 2001, MaxCyte conducted a Phase I trial with ErythroMax, made by loading patient or donor red blood cells with the compound inositol hexaphosphate, increasing the oxygen delivery function of red blood cells for an extended period. Laboratory results showed a consistent doubling of oxygen delivery capacity for treated cells.

The product seemed promising for use in surgery, treating post-operative infections and cardiovascular diseases.

"That was a successful Phase I," Doerfler told BioWorld Today. "We just had a problem trying to figure out a good commercialization path, given the whole area of oxygen transport. Treating ischemic disease is a difficult project. We still have that program, but we put it on the back burner." No partner is being actively sought.

Other efforts are under way in immunotherapy for tissue regeneration and oncology applications. Formerly a subsidiary of EntreMed Inc. - and formerly known as TheraMed Inc. (the name changed in 2001) - MaxCyte undertook a recapitalization to become independent in late 2002.

The most recent round of financing was led by new investors Intersouth Partners, of Durham, N.C., with first-time institutional money provided by Harbert Venture Partners, of Richmond, Va., and Tall Oaks Capital, of Charlottesville, Va.

Cash from the placement gives MaxCyte enough to operate for "several years," Doerfler said.