BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - A new French company developing therapeutic polyvaccines for the treatment of cancer is seeking €7 million in an initial funding round that would enable it to start clinical trials in 2005.

Called Vaxon Biotech, it was founded in January by Konstadinos Kosmatopoulos, a research director at France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), who for the past five years has been head of the cancer vaccine research laboratory at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif.

In that capacity, he developed a new polyvaccine using a different approach. Kosmatopoulos told BioWorld International that, whereas others targeted the dominant peptides of HLA antigens to induce an immune system response by acting on T lymphocytes, his vaccine targets the cryptic peptide, which is little expressed by the HLA antigen and thus is ignored by the immune system.

"Delivering a vaccine charged with an optimized cryptic peptide generates an efficient immune system response, whereas vaccines carrying the dominant peptide obtain a very weak immune response," Kosmatopoulos said. The vaccine has potential in various cancers because Vaxon Biotech uses peptides expressed by a variety of tumor cells.

The company's lead product is being developed for prostate cancer and now is at the toxicology stage of its preclinical development. Kosmatopoulos said the aim is to initiate a Phase I/II trial in the first half of 2005. Vaxon Biotech's second product is targeting lung cancer and is scheduled to enter clinical development shortly after the first.

Kosmatopoulos said the company would plan to license out products after Phase II or negotiate co-development deals.

Vaxon Biotech already is in negotiations with French venture capitalists and other potential investors to raise the €7 million it expects to need for its clinical development program. Without disclosing when the funding round is expected to be completed, Kosmatopoulos said he was confident the company would meet its development timetable.

The company began with a subsidy of €300,000 from the French Research Promotion Agency, which Kosmatopoulos obtained by winning a national business-creation competition organized by the Ministry of Research and Technology.

INSERM and the IGR have granted him an exclusive license for the intellectual property portfolio covering the technology he is developing, while INSERM's venture capital arm, INSERM Transfert, might participate in the initial financing.

Vaxon Biotech was founded with the support of Substrat, a French consulting firm specialized in helping start-ups get off the ground and arranging their initial contacts with potential investors.