BioWorld International Correspondent

MUNICH, Germany - Pieris Proteolab AG secured €12 million in first-round financing to accelerate and automate its internal discovery programs and to advance preclinical studies in oncology, inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

"The offering was oversubscribed, which demonstrates the confidence of the financing community in Pieris' potential. It also shows that substantial early stage funding is possible in Germany despite harsh market conditions," said Martin Poehlchen, CEO of Freising-based Pieris.

Pieris is a privately held start-up that specializes in protein engineering based on anticalins, ligand-binding proteins with properties resembling antibodies. Anticalins are derived from lipocalins, a widespread group of small and robust proteins, which are often involved in the physiological transport or storage of chemically sensitive or insoluble compounds. Pieris intends to construct anticalins to bind to specific targets. The company also has a library of more than 10 billion unique anticalins, which it plans to develop both internally and with partners.

Compared with monoclonal antibodies, anticalins are relatively small, consisting of 150 to 190 amino acids. Their size may be an advantage for binding with small molecules and for penetrating tissues such as solid tumors. Pieris also believes that anticalins might be easier to deliver than monoclonal antibodies, with options that include topical, pulmonary or nasal delivery.

"Anticalins have a number of advantages over antibodies," Steffen Schlehuber, chief scientific officer of Pieris, told BioWorld International. "They are easier to produce, they have a less complicated architecture, they are easier to manipulate, and they can be produced in E. coli.

"We can also equip them with toxins, and they are more stable than other antibody fragments," he added.

The company plans to pursue its own research program and to form partnerships with companies that want to use anticalins in clinical compounds. Schlehuber said that a number of negotiations with potential partners are under way, but he declined to give details.

Pieris was founded in March 2001 by Arne Skerra, as a spin-off from his work as a professor of biochemistry at the Technical University of Munich. The company won both the 2000 Munich Business Plan Competition and a grant from the German federal government, as part of the fifth round BioChance competition in 2001. (See BioWorld International, Oct. 31, 2001.)

Global Life Science Ventures (GLSV), of Munich, led the round, and other investors included Gilde Investment Management BV, BayTech Venture Capital, ABN AMRO Capital and BioM Venture Capital. TransConnect, one of the seed investors in Pieris, increased its commitment to the company. GLSV recently raised €143 million for its second fund for biotechnology investments. (See BioWorld International, Oct. 9, 2002).