BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - A recently created company specialized in the development of monoclonal antibodies has secured first-round financing of €1.25 million from iXCore, the investment vehicle of an anonymous French business angel.

Named MAT Biotech, the company was founded in early 2000 and is located in the incubator of the Genopole, the French national biotechnology science and business park at Evry. It began with seed funding of some €150,000, provided partly by the Genopole start-up fund and partly by another business angel investment fund, Seraip, of Rennes.

iXCore, of Marly-le-Roi, has undertaken to invest a further €800,000 in MAT Biotech in the first half of 2003. Moreover, the co-founder and CEO of MAT Biotech, Jean Kadouche, told BioWorld International that he already is looking ahead to a more substantial funding round toward the end of 2003, when he hopes to raise "a large sum," meaning at least €10 million.

The company intends to capitalize on the very rapid growth expected in the monoclonal antibody market in the coming decade. Referring to independent research reports, Kadouche said there were only 11 therapeutic monoclonal antibodies on the market today, with estimated annual sales of little more that $2 billion, but that the number would swell to around 100 by 2010, when the market is forecast to be worth around $50 billion.

MAT's lead product is a first-generation, polyclonal antibody, Yttrium 90 (human anti-ferritin IgG), for which clinical proof of concept was established in more than 150 patients suffering from refractory Hodgkin's disease at centers in the U.S. In conjunction with two of them, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Arlington Cancer Center in Houston, MAT is seeking orphan drug status from the FDA for Yttrium 90 and approval to go directly ahead with a Phase II clinical trial.

Kadouche is banking on successful results from that for launching his major funding round and said that, assuming the drug is given fast-track development approval, it could be on the market by 2005.

MAT also has developed and patented second-generation, anti-ferritin monoclonal antibodies, which could increase significantly the number of cancer patients benefiting from radioimmunotherapy, including those with liver cancer or adenoma carcinoma of the pancreas. Furthermore, the company is developing anti-ED8 monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of breast cancer in collaboration with the French National Center for Scientific Research.

In addition, MAT has obtained an exclusive license from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research to an antibody that links to the surface differentiation antigen CD44 to reverse the blockage of cell differentiation in acute myeloid leukemia. The company also plans to develop new anti-CD44 monoclonal antibodies under that license.

MAT Biotech's antibody development activities are underpinned by an integrated technology platform that comprises facilities for high-throughput screening of high-performance antibodies for therapeutic applications, together with a proteomics-based antigen identification system. The company thinks its technology will accelerate the identification of better MAb candidates than those typically identified by either cellular or genomic screening systems.

Kadouche said MAT's strategy was to use this technology platform not only to identify potential therapeutic targets but also for "performing fee-for-service activities to generate cash quickly." As regards the development of drug candidates, MAT plans to team up with other companies at the clinical trial stage to spread the costs, and is in the process of negotiating co-development agreements with a number of companies in both the U.S. and Europe.

MAT Biotech currently has a work force of six in France, but also has set up a center in Cambridge, Mass., to support its development projects in the U.S.