The early research efforts of Celator Technologies Inc. have caught the eyes of investors, who committed US$6.8 million in a first round of venture capital financing to the company trumpeting its approach to draw on research and development efforts on both sides of the continent.

Chairman and CEO Andrew Janoff also credited Celator's successful fund-raising efforts to its management, scientific advisory board and its bicoastal process of drug development. The privately held firm has spread its operations from the Pacific to the Atlantic - its research facilities are located in Vancouver, British Columbia, while clinical and pharmaceutical development will be undertaken in Princeton, N.J.

"The idea that we would take advantage of the science in British Columbia but place our pharmaceutical development in Princeton - the heart of the pharmaceutical industry - adds value as well," he told BioWorld Today.

Janoff said the latest financing would last two years, during which Celator would work to further its first product and identify others, eventually advancing to clinical trials. The company is developing products with activity against major tumor populations such as lung, colorectal, gastric, head and neck, pancreatic and ovarian cancers.

In total, the 20-person company has raised about US$9.5 million in equity financing since its founding. Spun out of the British Columbia Cancer Agency in 2000 by Lawrence Mayer and Marcel Bally, Celator is developing a carrier technology that targets synergistic combinations of existing chemotherapeutic agents to sites of disease. Its approach seeks to fix the ratios at which drug combinations act to kill tumor cells.

"The technology begins by identifying the synergistic ratios - the efficacy of the combination is exquisitely dependent on the ratio, and we can find that ratio by screening in cell-based assay systems," Janoff said. "Once that ratio is found, it is important that the ratio be fixed in a pharmaceutical carrier, and that is the expertise the company brings to this endeavor."

Celator said it could design its carriers to maintain their ratios in vivo and target specific tumors, possibly improving on already-positive results achieved with combination therapy. By using combinations of agents already shown to be effective, Celator also cuts down on research and development time as activity and toxicity profiles already are established.

"That is part and parcel of the liposomal expertise that the company has and is continuing to develop, and the polymeric expertise that the company is developing," said Janoff, who most formerly worked as the vice president of Princeton, N.J.-based Liposome Co. Inc., founded on technology he developed. "We are just focusing on the ratios that are most synergistic, and then fixing those ratios."

Celator's first development candidate - a topoisomerase inhibitor and a DNA antimetabolite - combines already-approved drugs in a ratio designed to enhance their activity in gastric and colorectal cancers.

Down the road, Celator also plans to apply its technology to developing novel combinations.

"Our vast knowledge leads us to the conclusion that any agent that is developed will be most effective in combinations with other agents," Janoff said. "So you can envision two novel agents."

He said Celator is unique in its approach to improving the activity of chemotherapeutic agents, positioning it well for a cancer treatment market it estimates at $16 billion and growing to more than $24 billion by 2005.

"Clearly, there is a market opportunity for new products," Janoff said.

Celator expects to penetrate such markets through partnerships, selecting some formulations to develop internally through Phase II before licensing them out while designating other product candidates for outlicensing at earlier stages.

Ventures West and Growthworks, both of Vancouver, led the round, which also included Business Development Bank of Canada in Montreal. The company previously received US$2.6 million in seed funding from Genyous Life Sciences and Hearthstone Investments Ltd., both of Vancouver, as well as other unnamed investors.

"I think the local investors saw an opportunity to create a North American pharmaceutical company, distinguishing us from many of the companies that exist here now," Janoff said.

Concurrent with the funding, Celator named Nancy Harrison of Ventures West and Pat Brady of Growthworks to its board, which already included Janoff and Mayer.