BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - ExonHit Therapeutics SA completed a financing entailing the issue of €8.3 million in convertible bonds to existing shareholders and their affiliates, saying the funds would be sufficient to finance its operations into 2006.

According to CEO Bruno Tocqué, investors did not subscribe exactly in proportion to their existing shareholdings, so some have increased their interests in the company. He told BioWorld International that the bonds were convertible into shares in mid-2006, describing the operation as "an extension of the third funding round rather than a fourth round."

Paris-based ExonHit was founded in 1997 and has raised €55.3 million since then. Its last financing dates back to December 2001, when it obtained €30 million from nine European venture capitalist funds, four of which were first-time investors - London-based Dresdner Kleinwort Capital; Danske Bank, of Copenhagen, Denmark; LCF E. de Rothschild, of Paris; and Sudinnova, of Lyon, France. Its other shareholders comprise Oxford BioScience Partners, of Boston, and four French funds all based in Paris: BNP-Paribas Banexi Venture III, CDC Innovation, Sofinnova Partners and AGF Private Equity.

ExonHit is hoping to attain several milestones in development programs over the next 12 months, including in particular "final efficacy results" from its ongoing Phase II trial of Ikomio, which will be available in the fourth quarter of 2004. Ikomio is being tested for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and is one of two drug candidates ExonHit has in clinical development for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

The other is EHT 0202, a Phase I trial of which is due to be completed this year. Tocqué said there were two possible indications for a Phase II study - either Alzheimer's disease or retinal degeneration.

ExonHit also expects to complete preclinical development in 2004 of the next two compounds in its product pipeline - EHT 0101, its leading cancer candidate, and EHT 0204, another product emanating from its neurodegenerative program that is being developed for an ophthalmological indication. Depending on the resources used by its Ikomio and EHT 0202 programs, ExonHit could initiate a Phase I trial of EHT 0101 toward the end of 2004 or in 2005, but Tocqué said it was too early to say in which cancer indication the product would be tested.

As regards the drug candidates in ophthalmology, Tocqué said their development was more complex and that the company would look for a partner with which to co-develop them.

Neurodegenerative diseases and cancer will remain the two types of pathology for which ExonHit continues to develop both therapeutics and diagnostics using its qualitative gene profiling technology, DATAS (Differential Analysis of Transcripts with Alternative Splicing). The technology is designed to permit detection of relevant changes in mRNA sequences resulting from alternative RNA splicing without high-throughput sequencing.