Two companies focused on developing drugs for cancer and inflammation patients raised a combined $42 million this week in private funds.
CombinatoRx Inc., of Boston, brought in $30 million as part of its third financing round, while Scarborough, Maine-based Phylogix Inc. reeled in $12 million in a Series B round.
The companies intend to use the funds to advance their pipeline candidates. CombinatoRx has three drugs in the clinic, while Phylogix is nearing the clinic with its lead drug.
The $30 million raised by CombinatoRx not only will go toward its clinical compounds, but also its preclinical candidates, said Robert Forrester, chief financial officer of the company.
"What it will allow us to do is we will move compounds more aggressively through the clinic," Forrester told BioWorld Today. "Over the next 12 months we anticipate bringing two, maybe three, products" into human testing.
The company's three clinical products are CRx026, which is in Phase I/II work for multiple tumors, and CRx119 and CRx139, both of which are in Phase I trials for rheumatoid arthritis.
Its preclinical work targets areas of inflammation. Forrester said the financing would last the company more than two years.
CombinatoRx initiated clinical trials of all three lead compounds within the last six months and its "whole product engine has been internally developed," Forrester said.
The company's platform is based on its Combination High-Throughput Screening technology, which is designed to create a drug cocktail - a drug made by the combination of other molecules.
"It's a very pragmatic approach in which screens approve drugs against different target assays to find novel combinations," Forrester said. "You have advantages because you are using existing approved, known compounds. You know the pharmacology. You know the toxicology. You know you can make these compounds. You've cleared a number of hurdles."
The company, founded in 2000 by scientists at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focuses on creating new combination medicines that attack disease. In development are treatments for cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but the company also has ongoing research in respiratory, metabolic and infectious diseases. Within the last year, CombinatoRx received its first product patent and published its first peer-reviewed article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To date, CombinatoRx has raised $90 million in total venture capital. Boston Millenia Partners led the private round. Other investors included Easton Hunt Capital Partners LP, of New York; Yasuda Enterprise Development, of Palo Alto, Calif.; Global Life Science Ventures, of Munich, Germany; Canaan Partners, of Rowayton, Conn.; Flagship Ventures, of Cambridge, Mass.; and TL Ventures, of Wayne, Pa.
Pat Fortune, a partner at Boston Millenia, joined the CombinatoRx board.
Phylogix Anticipates Clinic After Series B Round
Phylogix raised $12 million in its Series B financing to help move its first product into the clinic and to expand its emerging drug platform.
"For the last two years, we conducted the key preclinical studies to demonstrate FRIL's safety and efficacy in mouse models," said Jeffrey Moore, founder, president and CEO of Phylogix. "With this $12 million financing, we will fund further studies in preparation for clinical trials."
Phylogix's lead drug candidate, FRIL, protects the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract of mice from the toxicity of chemotherapy, Moore said.
FRIL (Flt3 receptor-interacting lectin) is a lectin protein derived from hyacinth beans that preserve stem cells and progenitor cells in a dormant state. That could be particularly valuable for patients undergoing treatment for cancer, Moore said.
Chemotherapy kills all actively dividing cells - not only cancer cells, but also the normal, rapidly dividing progenitor cells in the gastrointestinal tract as well as bone marrow. When that happens, cancer patients often suffer from low blood counts, which can lead to anemia and infection, as well as diarrhea, dry mouth, hair loss and other painful side effects.
FRIL is able to protect those cells from chemotherapy by preventing proliferation of the dividing cells, causing them to be dormant. When dormant, they are less susceptible to toxicities from chemotherapy.
"We believe that when administered before chemotherapy, FRIL works like anesthesia, where the normal tissue-regenerating cells are put to sleep for a short period of time, taking those cells out of harm's way," Moore said.
Current marketed treatments for chemotherapy's side effects include Amgen Inc.'s Neulasta and Aranesp and Johnson & Johnson's Procrit, which are used following chemotherapy to restore blood cell levels. The annual worldwide supportive-care market for chemotherapy is about $7 billion a year.
FRIL enables preservation of the proliferating cells, which come out of the dormant state once chemotherapy treatments cease. The company is eager to test the drug in humans, Moore said.
"FRIL has the potential to substantially reduce the serious side effects and suffering of cancer patients during chemotherapy," Moore said. "It may reduce infections and visits to the hospital, allow the oncologist to stay on track with treatment, and decrease overall treatment costs."
Phylogix was founded in 1998 to develop the FRIL technology.
The company raised nearly $3 million in a Series A financing, conducted more than two years ago. It also has received $600,000 in grants from the Maine Technology Institute. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 31, 2001.)
Lead investors in the latest round were New York-based Radius Ventures; Boston-based Atlas Venture; Prospect Venture Partners, of Palo Alto, Calif.; and Canaan Partners, of Rowayton, Conn. Existing investors that participated were the Biotechnology Value Fund and Maine's Small Enterprise Growth Fund.
As a result of the financing, four people will join the Phylogix board: Daniel Lubin, of Radius Ventures; Jean-Francois Formela, of Atlas Venture; David Schnell, of Prospect Venture Partners; and Seth Rudnick, of Canaan Partners.
The company also appointed George Milne chairman. Milne is the former executive vice president of research and development at New York-based Pfizer Inc.