Raising $19.5 million in a financing, privately held Icagen Inc. plans to advance its two in-house clinical programs and to expand its drug discovery pipeline.

"This financing provides Icagen with additional resources to develop our current pipeline of drug candidates, as well as to further advance our research-stage programs," said Richard Katz, Icagen's chief financial officer, in a prepared statement.

Katz declined to give further information about the financing, but did describe the company's clinical programs for which some of the funds will be used.

"We have our Phase II compound for sickle cell disease and our Phase I compound for epilepsy and neuropathic pain, both of which are internal programs," he told BioWorld Today. The company also has a collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York, for an atrial fibrillation product that is in Phase I testing.

Icagen raised $23 million in its last private financing, conducted in March 2001. It also raised $19 million in December 1999. Since its inception, the company has raised about $70 million, including the 19.5 million reported Monday.

The company's candidate for sickle cell anemia, ICA-17043, completed enrollment in its Phase II trial last summer. Results from the 90-patient, double-blind, placebo-controlled study are expected to be released this quarter. Researchers are looking at a variety of laboratory and clinical endpoints, including changes in certain hematologic parameters and several measures of pain. The FDA has granted fast-track designation for ICA-17043, which targets a specific ion channel, known as the Gardos channel, located on the membrane of red blood cells. Results from a Phase Ib trial of the small molecule released in September 2002 showed no evidence of dose-limiting or serious treatment-related side effects.

The candidate for epilepsy and neuropathic pain, ICA-69673, entered Phase I trials this month. The initial study is a single-dose escalation trial in healthy male volunteers. It acts on an ion channel that represents one of several targets in epilepsy and other disorders of neuro-excitability.

Icagen, of Research Triangle Park, N.C., is focused exclusively on ion channel modulation. Ion channels are membrane-bound cellular proteins that regulate the flow of ions, such as potassium, sodium and calcium, into and out of cells. The company's technologies help with the identification and development of ion channel compounds. Icagen also has discovery and development programs in the areas of cardiovascular, central nervous system, hematologic, ophthalmologic and immunologic disorders.

In addition to its partnership with Bristol-Myers, the company is working with Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and Abbott Laboratories.

In November, Icagen extended its research and development agreement with Abbott, of Abbott Park, Ill., to discover and develop small-molecule drugs that target a specific ion channel for the treatment of neuropathic and inflammatory pain. Abbott is continuing to fund research and development. The original agreement was signed in 1997. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 9, 1997.)

About a year ago, Icagen also renewed its research and development agreement with BMS for the discovery and development of small-molecule drugs targeting a specific ion channel involved in atrial fibrillation. BMS is continuing to fund research and development.

The deal with Yamanouchi, of Tokyo, was signed in April 2000. It is aimed at identifying drugs based on one of Icagen's ion channel targets. The drugs could become treatments for memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease.