BioWorld International Correspondent

Milan, Italy-based BioXell SpA received €7.3 million in research and development funding from Italy's research ministry (Ministero dell'Istruzione dell'Universita e della Ricerca - MIUR) to accelerate its preclinical programs in inflammation.

One-third of the funding consists of a nonrefundable grant, payable over three years, while the remainder is a loan repayable at a 0.5 percent interest rate over 10 years.

The cash will support the company's efforts to find modulators of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) involved in inflammation and to discover triggering receptors expressed on myeloid cells (TREMs), which are implicated in a range of inflammatory conditions, including sepsis, multiple sclerosis and asthma. The latter was discovered by Marco Colonna, a member of BioXell's scientific advisory board, while working at the Roche Immunology Institute in Basel, Switzerland. BioXell, which was spun out of Basel-based F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. in 2002, holds the associated patent rights.

Colonna and co-workers reported in a paper published in Nature in 2001 that the TREM-1 receptor was up-regulated on peritoneal neutrophils of patients with microbial sepsis and that blocking the receptor protected mice from several experimentally induced forms of shock. BioXell's TREM program initially is focused on that target.

"We have a candidate, which is a fusion protein," CEO Francesco Sinigaglia told BioWorld International. The company's GPCR program, which is partnered with TaiGen Biotechnology Co. Ltd. of Taipei, Taiwan, is still at the candidate-screening stage, Sinigaglia said.

BioXell's lead program, the development of the vitamin D3 analogue BXL-628 as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia, is in Phase II trials. "If everything goes well, as we expect, we will be starting a Phase III study before the end of this year," Sinigaglia said. The company is targeting a second indication with the same molecule. "We are going to start, before the end of the year, another Phase II study in overactive bladder," he said.

The cash injection, which raises BioXell's total funding to €47 million, enables the company to add six employees to its payroll of 50 people. The company has yet to finalize future financing plans.

"This will be a decision that will be driven by our clinical programs," Sinigaglia said.