Washington Editor

Bionaut Pharmaceuticals Inc. plans to use the $6.8 million it raised in a Series A financing to expand its cancer and inflammation cell lines program and to help build its pipeline of drug candidates.

Founded in August 2000 in Cambridge, Mass., Bionaut's work centers on its Sentinel Pathway Reporter System, technology invented by co-founder Mehran Khodadoust, formerly a scientist at Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., also of Cambridge. Using this technology, Bionaut said it is able to correlate genetic activity in well-validated disease pathways directly with disease modulation in living cells.

Funding collected in the Series A includes $4 million raised about a year ago plus seed money invested to start the company, Kees Been, company CEO, told BioWorld Today. Been, former senior vice president of the oncology business unit at Cambridge-based Biogen Inc., joined Bionaut in early July.

Envisioning the young company's journey ahead, Been said Bionaut is similar to 99 percent of all start-up biotechs. "You start with a technology, and yes, we will end up licensing some of our technology, but clearly our challenge, like everyone else's, is to transition from a technology to a product company. That means we have to expand our own technology base and apply it to our own drug discovery or discovery collaborations."

Bionaut will use its technology to focus on development of small-molecule drugs in major diseases, primarily cancer and inflammation. And, the company believes its technology potentially could shorten the traditional three- to five-year "gene to screen" drug discovery process and lead to compounds with a high probability of success in the clinic.

"The reason we think discovery has been so unproductive is because most was focused on target-based research, which means you focus on one particular gene and you try to knock it out or enhance it," Been said. "The problem is, if you only focus on one gene, that gene is a little cog in a huge network, so you never know if you knock out one gene, what you might create, i.e., side effects."

He said the reporter system technology has the ability to focus on an entire pathway. "We can measure the selective activation of one pathway with this technology, so you will know whether you are indeed activating your pathway of choice and not the other pathways that you don't want to inhibit," he said.

Bionaut already has relationships with AstraZeneca plc, of London, in cancer, and Biogen in inflammation. Been described the two agreements as "typical investment deals."

Investors in the Series A round included Collinson, Howe & Lennox, of Stamford, Conn., and HealthCap Venture Capital, of Stockholm, Sweden.