Raven Biotechnologies Inc. has 40 million more reasons to celebrate the New Year.

The South San Francisco-based firm closed a $40 million Series C round of financing, an amount of funding the company attributed in part to its discovery approach.

"I think our investors recognized that there isn't something else out there like the Raven platform for finding novel targets and antibodies against them," Raven Chief Operating and Financial Officer John Whelan told BioWorld Today. "We're producing about 10 well-characterized monoclonal antibodies per year, and you're not seeing that kind of flow coming out of any other company. And our platform is not genomics-based, which contrasts us with many others out there."

To date, privately held Raven, which uses human biology to discover targets for monoclonal antibodies, has raised $63 million. Whelan said the company expects the latest infusion to last several years, long enough to push its lead monoclonal antibody to clinical development. He said Raven hopes to file with the FDA in 2004 an investigational new drug application for the antibody's targeted indication, prostate cancer.

"That's a near-term milestone," Whelan said, adding that a portion of the funds also would be used to offset costs associated with a change in address to a larger South San Francisco facility. "And we need to continue to turn out this flow of well-characterized antibodies - about 10 per year - for ourselves and for collaborators."

He said preclinical models have shown efficacy to date, pointing to positive toxicity results in primates and tumor reduction in mouse models.

Raven in October delivered in its lone collaboration, producing for Cambridge, Mass.-based ImmunoGen Inc. the first in a series of candidate monoclonal antibodies. As part of the deal, expected to produce ovarian cancer therapeutics, ImmunoGen gets development, manufacturing and commercialization rights in North America and Europe to products stemming from the targets and antibodies provided by Raven. For its part, Raven gained an up-front licensing fee, research support and potential milestones and royalties. (See BioWorld Today, March 30, 2001.)

Specifically, Raven said it would use the latest funding to accelerate its programs identifying cancer-specific targets and monoclonal antibodies for lung, colon, pancreatic, prostate, breast, brain and ovarian cancers. Raven said its 30 normal and cancer-derived cell lines were developed to act as antigens for the development of anticancer monoclonal antibody therapies.

The company said its approach identifies cell surface targets and monoclonal antibodies to those targets simultaneously, speeding up the discovery process.

New York-based Bear Stearns Health Innoventures LP led the round. Other new investors included Pequot Ventures, of New York; GE's Life Science and Technology Finance Group, of Norwalk, Conn.; Singapore's BioMedical Sciences Investment Fund Pte. Ltd.; and Integra Ventures, of Seattle. Existing investors included U.S. Venture Partners, of Palo Alto, Calif.; CMEA Ventures, of San Francisco; Hambrecht & Quist Capital Management LLC, of Boston; and Milepost Ventures, of San Francisco.

In conjunction with the financing, Raven added to its board Bear Stearns Managing Partner Elizabeth Czerepak, H&Q Vice President Dennis McCoy and Pequot General Partner Perry Karsen.

"We like these new board members because we think they will expand our capabilities and strategic collaborations," Whelan said. "With the flow of antibodies that we have, we think we have some very high value for large collaborators to look at."