BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Neuro3d, a biotechnology company set up in 2000 to discover and develop drugs for disorders of the central nervous system, raised a further €20 million in a second round of financing.

The round was led by two European venture capital funds specialized in life sciences - HealthCap, of Stockholm, Sweden, and Techno Venture Management (TVM), of Munich, Germany - which between them provided about half the funding. The other half was put up by the company's two existing investors, Paris-based Sofinnova Partners and the Paris office of Apax Partners, which had provided Neuro3d with all its initial funding of €7.6 million in November 2000.

Neuro3d, of Mulhouse, in eastern France, is targeting three types of CNS disorders in particular: schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. Its most advanced program is in schizophrenia and is being undertaken in conjunction with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, the Belgium-based subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, of New Brunswick, N.J., with which Neuro3d signed a licensing agreement in March giving it exclusive worldwide rights to Ocaperidone, an atypical anti-psychotic.

Neuro3d CEO Charles Woler told BioWorld International that the company had agreed to a two-year program with Janssen, during which it is to complete Phase I and II trials of the compound and fulfill certain other obligations. On completion of Phase II in April 2004, Janssen would have the option of licensing back rights to Ocaperidone, failing which Neuro3d would license it out to another pharmaceutical company. The Phase I trial already is well advanced, Woler added.

This deal corresponds to the company's business strategy, which is to take drug candidates as far as Phase II trials to establish proof of concept in man and then to license them out. It has another drug development program in schizophrenia under way in-house, as well as two in depression and anxiety, and one of the programs is due to be taken into preclinical development before the end of this year. Two of them are in contention for that, and the selection is expected shortly.

In addition, Woler said, Neuro3d is negotiating with other pharmaceutical companies for licensing in further products to complete its portfolio.

Describing his four external investors as a "dream team," Woler said he had spoken to a large number of venture capitalists in both Europe and the U.S. for this second funding round, before arriving at a short list of five and finally doing business with HealthCap and TVM. For TVM, the investment is particularly significant insofar as "France was not core to TVM's investment strategy," according to General Partner Hubert Birtner. He said TVM was "seduced by Neuro3d's outstanding scientific team and its ability to satisfy unmet medical needs in the fields of schizophrenia and depression," as well as by the "high profile of the international syndicate."

For his part, Johan Christenson, general partner at HealthCap, stressed "Neuro3d's innovative approach" and the fact that, "driven by an increasingly aging population . . . the CNS market is expected to grow twice as rapidly as the total global pharma market."