BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Trophos will inaugurate new business premises on Sept. 13 at the Luminy science park near Marseille, where the company is based.

The facility, which comprises 1,200 square meters of laboratory space, will be opened by the French Health Minister, Jean-François Mattéi.

The company will launch a second funding round in October in which it hopes to raise €15 million, CEO Antoine Béret told BioWorld International. The financing, which is unlikely to be completed before early next year, will provide Trophos with the funds required to move drug candidates forward into preclinical development and early stage clinical trials.

Trophos, which was founded in 1999 and now employs some 30 full-time staff, closed its first funding round in July 2001, raising €5 million from three business angels and four French venture capital funds (see BioWorld International, Aug. 1, 2001). This time, Béret said, he would be widening his net to bring in investors from outside France.

Trophos, which specializes in the discovery of compounds that prevent neuronal cell death, is focusing on three pathologies that are characterized by the progressive loss of neurons in the brain or spinal chord: motoneuron diseases, Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease.

As Béret explained, Trophos has developed "a methodology which, using the spinal chord or brain of rodents, makes it possible to purify solely those nerve cells affected by the disease, to cultivate them and to mimic the different stages of the disease in those models. We test small molecules with the help of an original automated system that we invented."

Using the high-speed screening platform, Trophos identified several dozen molecules with a neuroprotective effect that it has patented, and is now engaged in the chemical optimization and toxicological and pharmacological evaluation of the four most promising ones (two for motoneuron diseases and two for Alzheimer's). Béret said the first candidates should be selected by the end of 2003 and the company's first product could be on the market around 2007.

The core of Trophos' neuron screening platform is a patented "cell analyzer," an optical measuring instrument for counting neurons during the high-throughput screening process. The company claims the machine can count cell samples on a microtitration plate 10 times faster than conventional flow cytometry equipment, and with equal precision. It has wider potential applications than neuron research since it could interest any organization that uses cytometry techniques to count cells and quantify cell parameters.

To exploit the commercial potential of its cell analyzer, Trophos is negotiating a deal for its industrial-scale production and commercialization. Talks are "at an advanced stage" with a U.S. company in particular, and allowing a year for further development of the machine, Béret hopes it will starting generating revenues for Trophos in 2004. Stressing the technical merits of the analyzer, he said that "without it, Trophos would not exist today."

Meanwhile, Trophos is not solely dependent on its own funds for its research and development programs. Its work on motoneuron diseases is being largely financed by France's Muscular Dystrophy Association (AFM - Association Française contre les Myopathies), which gave it a grant of $3 million covering the 2000 to 2002 period. The company is negotiating a similar partnership to finance its Huntington's research program, this time with a non-French patients' foundation.

Trophos is exploring molecular series that could prevent or at least slow down the amyloid deposits that affect the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients, as well as trying to identify compounds that impede neuron death. It also has discovered a new class of differential inhibitors of the g-secretase enzyme, which could have therapeutic potential in Alzheimer's, since toxic peptides resulting from the cleavage of the amyloid precursor protein by g-secretase are one of the main causes of the disease.