Privately held Concurrent Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised $15 million in its second financing round, money that will help propel the company's renin inhibitor preclinical candidates.

In connection with the financing, Concurrent formed a collaboration with Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. to build computers that will assist the company in more accurate and successful drug discovery and development.

"The collaborative side allows us to get access to some advanced machine learning technology that they have within their company and the expertise to use it," said John Baldwin, Concurrent's president and chief scientific officer. "These machine learning techniques will allow us to take computational methods and actually integrate them more seamlessly. And this will increase the efficiencies in which we get predictions, and these predictions will be more accurate."

Based in Fort Washington, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia, Concurrent was founded in May 2001 by Baldwin and three others: James Tananbaum, a member of the company's board, and Eugene Shakhnovich and George Whitesides, members of the company's scientific advisory board. The company raised $16 million in its Series A financing, which was completed in April 2002.

The company's $15 million Series B financing included current investors Prospect Venture Partners, of Palo Alto, Calif., and Venrock Associates and New Enterprise Associates, both of Menlo Park, Calif. It also included new investor Intel Capital, of Santa Clara, Calif., Intel Corp.'s strategic investment entity.

Concurrent combines its computational drug design methodologies with medicinal chemistry and biology to discover new, more successful compounds. Its computational tools include Explorer RX, Gauntlet, ConTour and Conductor, which combined make the Concentric Technology Platform. The platform is used to evaluate millions of molecules in silico, eliminating compounds with potential absorption and toxicity problems, as well as other issues.

The company's methods should improve the quality of compounds selected for clinical development, and it should reduce failures, it said.

Concurrent's technology enabled it to identify three renin inhibitor compounds. Renin is the enzyme used to make cheese, Baldwin told BioWorld Today. It has been studied for 20 years, but has not yet resulted in a marketed drug, he said.

"Renin is a very important target in cardiovascular medicine designed for hypertension and renal disease," he said. "We are at a point now where we expect to have a safety assessment candidate at the end of 2004."

That means a compound could move into the clinic in early 2005, said Richard Baxter, Concurrent's chief business officer.

The renin candidates moved to the preclinical stage of animal testing in only nine months. "This has been a decade-old challenge to design and reduce the practice level of compounds," Baldwin said.

"We think this renin program marks the beginning," Baxter said. "It's the validation of our computational approach."

Baxter said the latest financing will take the company through 2004, but potential collaborations, partnerships and alliances could stretch it even longer.

Concurrent's business model is to develop strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, focusing on the development of drug candidates against specific molecular targets. It will initiate internal drug discovery programs in areas where drug candidates can be brought to late-stage development or to market with its own capital.

While the renin program moves forward, Concurrent's computational machine continues to run as the company constantly is looking for candidate compounds in the cardiovascular, central nervous system and metabolic therapeutic areas.

With new drug development spanning 10 to 15 years and costing as much as $800 million per drug, Concurrent recognized the need to identify drugs earlier and ones that have a better chance of success. About 80 percent to 90 percent of drugs fail, the company said, mostly because of deficiencies in absorption, metabolism, toxicity or efficacy. Despite the increase in research and development spending, the number of new drugs has remained constant each year.

Traditionally, researchers evaluate millions of compounds each year. It is estimated that only one in 10 compounds entering clinical trials will reach the market.

Concurrent's technology aims to reduce the failure rate with its virtual design and virtual screening methods, conducted before any expensive laboratory work is done.

"The basic underlying technology allows you to design drugs just like you design airplanes," Baldwin said. "We allow these drugs to grow piece by piece within the target protein. We can evaluate how tight that interaction is and then decide whether or not to make it."

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