BioWorld International Correspondent

Swiss cardiovascular and metabolic drug development firm Speedel Group raised CHF52.1 million (US$38.7 million) in a mezzanine financing round comprising a convertible loan of CHF49 million and equity investment of CHF3.1 million. The company has raised a total of CHF96 million in debt and equity financing since its establishment in 1998.

The new cash injection, combined with existing resources, will secure the company's operations for the next three years, Chief Financial Officer Konrad Wirz told BioWorld International. Basel-based Speedel had twelve months of cash - CHF25 million - at the beginning of the year. The company is planning an initial public offering in 2005.

Speedel's business model differs from those of most other young pharmaceutical firms. It does not have internal R&D or drug discovery activities, but instead in-licenses promising drug candidates and takes them through early and mid-stage clinical development before seeking to license them on for Phase III trials and commercialization. It also has a lead optimization arm, Speedel Experimenta AG, which works on preclinical compounds that already have been validated.

"We take the entire risk for Phase I and Phase II," Wirz said.

That approach yields income at a relatively early stage. Since its formation, the company has garnered CHF55 million through its work on Aliskiren, an orally active renin inhibitor in development for hypertension. It originally licensed the compound from Basel-based Novartis AG in 1999 and took it through Phase I and Phase II studies before Novartis exercised an option to take it back three years later. Speedel retains a royalty position in the compound, which is expected to enter Phase III trials shortly.

Next in line is an oral endothelin A receptor antagonist, SPP 301, which is in development for an undisclosed cardiovascular indication. The compound is currently undergoing a Phase IIb trial, which is expected to be completed next summer, at which point Speedel will seek a partner. The company's other programs are at an earlier development stage. It has licensed in from Novartis its renin inhibitor program, and recently it entered a preclinical collaboration in the same area with Locus Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Blue Bell, Pa. Details of two other development programs, SPP200 and SPP400, have not been disclosed.