BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Gene Signal, a functional genomics company developing therapies for cancer and cardiovascular diseases, raised €2 million in an initial funding round. The funds were provided by Paris-based SGAM, a subsidiary of the French bank Société Générale.

Gene Signal was founded in 2000 and its funding up to now was provided by a grant of €150,000 from the French Ministry of Research in 2001 and a later investment of €200,000 by a business angel.

The company is based in the incubator of the Genopole, France's national biotechnology science and business park at Evry, and is using a proprietary technology platform to discover the genes coding for the cellular constituents involved in angiogenesis, the biological process by which blood vessels are formed, for the development of drugs in two therapeutic fields.

The president of Gene Signal, Salman Al Mahmood, told BioWorld International that the company's technology, based on an in vitro model of angiogenesis, enabled it to identify and validate genes and their functions much more rapidly than traditional methods. It had a portfolio of 60 new genes, he said, all of which were characterized and functionally validated. One-quarter of them were "completely new," he said, so much so that the company had to find names for 15 previously unknown proteins.

Gene Signal has already developed a lead compound from one of the genes discovered. Al Mahmood said that proof of concept had been established for it as an angiogenic product and that toxicology studies would begin shortly. A Phase I trial of the drug candidate is due to be initiated within 18 months in an ophthalmological pathology for which Gene Signal is to seek classification as an orphan disease. It is preparing to submit an application to that effect to the European Medicines Evaluation Agency in London in the coming months.

Al Mahmood said Gene Signal had another 10 candidate compounds in its product pipeline, from which a second drug candidate would be selected for clinical development in either oncology or cardiovascular disease by the end of 2003.

The company now has sufficient funds to finance its ongoing research and development programs for 18 months. In addition, it plans to set up a subsidiary in Montreal, where the clinical development of its cardiovascular drug candidates will be centered.