National Editor

With preclinical programs in cardiovascular research - certain parts of which were in-licensed from Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. - Portola Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised $21 million in a Series A financing that will be used to advance the work.

"We've made hundreds of compounds around this chemistry scaffold, actually about a thousand now," said Charles Homcy, South San Francisco-based Portola's CEO and one of its founders. "We'll pick one of those in the first half of 2004, and then have it in man by the first half of 2005."

Privately held Portola plans to develop anti-platelet therapeutic agents for acute and chronic thrombotic indications, and is working on therapies for chronic inflammatory cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis.

The Jan. 11, 2001, issue of Nature reported the cloning of a previously unidentified ADP receptor, an important mediator of platelet activation that is the target of two existing anti-clot drugs, ticlopidine and clopidogrel.

Portola's "idea here is to have a one-a-day oral drug, but it will also be available as [intravenous administration]," Homcy said. "This would be for prevention of death, myocardial infarction, stroke, re-hospitalization for ischemia and [problems related to] peripheral vascular disease - all of the thrombotic complications that occur in patients with atherosclerosis."

Homcy and others who founded Portola have backgrounds with Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennium. Homcy most recently served as the company's president of research and development and before that was vice president of research and development for COR Therapeutics Inc., also of South San Francisco, with which Millennium merged in a stock transaction worth about $2 billion. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 7, 2001.)

"This technology actually started at COR," Homcy told BioWorld Today. Millennium "for a variety of reasons" chose not to pursue it, so now "the same people who were working on it at COR for many years are the people who will continue to work on it."

Robert Scarborough, another co-founder of Portola, was formerly vice president of cardiovascular chemistry at Millennium and before that served as vice president of medicinal chemistry of COR. Scarborough is credited with inventing the firm's cardiovascular drugs Integrilin (eptifibatide) - gained in the COR merger - and Natrecor (nesiritide).

Portola co-founder David Phillips also helped establish COR, and most recently was the principal research scientist at Millennium. Scarborough and Phillips are senior vice presidents of Portola, which began operating this year and has 32 employees, including 11 chemists and nine biologists.

The financing round was co-led by Sutter Hill Ventures, of Palo Alto, Calif.; Prospect Ventures, also of Palo Alto; and MPM Capital, of Boston. Making what the company described as "significant" investments were Abingworth Management, of London, and Frazier Healthcare Ventures, of Seattle.