BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Domantis Ltd. raised £17.5 million (US$33 million) in a second-round funding that will enable it to reach proof-of-efficacy trials for its most advanced domain antibodies (dAbs) and see the company through to financial independence, it said.

Bob Connelly, CEO, told BioWorld International the round was oversubscribed.

"We did have the ability to raise more money, but in the end we made the decision to run with this," he said. "A lot depends on what happens with deals around some of the products we are developing, but [the funding] will take us to human efficacy and leave us with a substantial amount of cash still on hand."

Connelly believes the financing climate for private companies is slowly improving, but said it "is not improving very much. We started the process one year ago."

The round was led by 3i Group plc, of London, with Gray Ghost LLC, of Baltimore; Albany Ventures, of London; and an unnamed U.S. institutional investor also participating. Cambridge-based Domantis was formed around intellectual property from the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), and the council's venture arm, MVM Ltd., of London, followed on, as did Peptech Ltd., the Sydney, Australia-based biotechnology company that is the largest investor in Domantis.

Over the next three years, Connelly expects dAbs being developed both by Peptech's and Domantis' in-house programs to reach human efficacy trials. Peptech's lead product is an anti-TNF-alpha dAb for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis; it also has options to dAbs against three other targets. Connelly said the second Peptech program is under way and the companies are discussing terms.

Domantis has eight in-house programs in cancer and inflammation based on public domain targets. With the funding, it intends to fast track "a few" of those through to the clinic. Connelly said a decision on which ones will be taken should be made in four to five months. The most advanced programs at present are in arthritis and Crohn's disease.

As the smallest functional units of antibodies, dAbs combine the benefits of their larger brethren with those of small-molecule drugs. They can reach a wider range of targets than conventional antibodies and because they are only 10 percent of the molecular weight of full-size antibodies, dAbs can be conjugated together to address two or more targets in a single entity. They also will cost less to manufacture and can be administered orally or by injection.

Domantis' in-house programs are balanced to include a mix of "fast follower" projects based on conventional antibody properties, and higher-risk projects that aim to take advantage of the distinctive properties of dAbs, such as the ability to neutralize more than one target or to address well-known targets that are not accessible using conventional antibodies.

Apart from its collaboration with Peptech, Domantis has deals with Abbott Laboratories, of Abbott Park, Ill.; ImClone Systems Inc., of New York; and an undisclosed partner.

"All these will continue to produce cash for us," Connelly said. "And then there are a number of advanced discussions on co-development and technology collaboration. We will probably be out-licensing preclinical dAbs within another year."

Domantis was spun out of the MRC's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge in December 2000 with seed funding from MVM. Four months later it signed a collaboration agreement with Peptech in which Peptech made a $7 million equity investment and agreed to make research and development payments of $10 million in return for rights to four dAbs. At the same time, MVM agreed to invest a further $3 million.