BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Avidex Ltd., of Oxford, raised £11.5 million (US$17.9 million) in third-round funding, which should enable it to take several of its T-cell receptor products through to the clinic in 2004.

Avidex CEO James Noble told BioWorld International, "These are not ideal times to be raising money, and everyone is being very cautious, so I am very pleased to have completed this round."

The funding was led by Advent Venture Partners with Quester Capital Management, and included investments from Sitka Health Fund Venture Capital Trust and eTechnology Venture Capital Trust.

Avidex said it is the only company with the ability to manufacture soluble and stable T-cell receptors and is developing those elements of the immune system as treatments for cancer and immune diseases. T cells find and destroy diseased cells or recognize other foreign substances in the body. Whereas antibodies can lock only onto whole proteins on the surface of cells, T cells can bind to peptide antigens within cells.

The company is developing a range of monoclonal T-cell receptors to target peptide antigens in cancer cells. "This is going fantastically well, the production is rock solid and they are dead cheap to make," Noble said. "The next thing we need to do is increase their affinity. We are confident we can do that within the next six months; then we will test to ensure that the receptors can find cancer cells in vivo."

Because the receptors are fully human, it is anticipated there will be no problems with immune rejection, and Noble expects to get the first product into the clinic in 2004.

In Avidex's second program, HLA blockers discovered using the T-cell receptors to screen for small-molecule inhibitors are being optimized. "We will try to pick a clinical candidate in 2004," Noble said.

The third program consists of CD80 inhibitors for the prevention of graft rejection. They are due to enter preclinical development in the next few months and be in the clinic by the end of 2003.

Noble said he will be looking for a partner next year for one of the programs. "It depends how this goes, but realistically this is not the last funding round before an IPO."

Avidex was formed in July 2000 around technology developed by Bent Jakobsen, at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford. It raised £10 million in the previous round in December 2000.