BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Lorantis Ltd. raised £25 million (US$42 million) in its third round, giving it sufficient funds for the next four years and enabling the company to move two lead immunotherapeutic products through to proof of principle.

Mark Bodmer, CEO, told BioWorld International, "Overall we've been incredibly pleased we could generate this level of interest, especially since the state of the market is against early stage companies."

The amount is slightly ahead of what Lorantis set out to raise, but Bodmer said the investors' rationale was to ensure the company would have enough money to reach proof of principle.

The round was led by Apax Partners, with existing investors Abingworth Management, JP Morgan Partners, Quester Capital Management, Schroder Ventures, the Wellcome Trust and Fleming Family and Partners.

Cambridge-based Lorantis has developed a drug discovery platform around Notch, an immune response modifier that exists on the surface of T cells. Notch is a fundamental mechanism that tells the immune system to attack - or tolerate - a foreign antigen. Notch activation during antigen presentation results in T-cell tolerance that is specific and long lived.

Lorantis' first product is designed to prevent allergic reactions to house dust mites for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma. The second is an autoimmune product being developed to treat both multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

"These are still at the preclinical stage, but we expect to move into the clinic in late 2004, early 2005," Bodmer said.

Because it can be used to suppress reactions to specific antigens without affecting the normal function of the immune system as a whole, the Notch mechanism also is expected to be effective in preventing rejection of both organ transplants and cell therapy. Bodmer said Lorantis will look for a partner in that area.

The company was formed in 1998 around technology from Imperial College in London and Edinburgh University. Since then, Lorantis has built a drug discovery platform based on Notch called Aspect (Antigen-specific therapy). Bodmer said he now is interested in finding partners that want to use Aspect in drug discovery.

"We are in early discussions with pharma partners, not to license the platform as whole, but for specific projects," he said. "We are not positioning Aspect as an enabling technology platform, but as a platform that generates products, and we are getting a good response."

Lorantis raised £16.2 million in its second round in November 2001, and £3 million in its first round in 2000.