BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - A new company, Xention Discovery Ltd., has been formed with £4 million (US$6.1 million) of venture capital backing, around ion channel screening technology acquired from CeNeS Pharmaceuticals plc.

The disposal of the ion channel technology for £750,000 is part of the restructuring of CeNeS, initiated in October 2001.

Xention has acquired CeNeS' AutoPatch technology and related intellectual property. In addition, seven employees will transfer from Cambridge-based CeNeS to Xention, which also is based in Cambridge. The £750,000 will be in the form of a minority shareholding in Xention, valued at £375,000, and a loan note for £375,000. CeNeS also will have option rights to any candidates for the treatment of pain arising from Xention's research.

Neil Clark, chief operating officer and finance director of CeNeS, said the divestment was another step in the restructuring program. "We are pleased to retain a stake in the future of this leading technology and in the potential drug candidates that may be discovered by using it," he said.

The transaction, and the formation of Xention, was led by the venture capital fund manager MVM Ltd., of London, a specialist in starting up life sciences companies.

Tim Brears, CEO of Xention, told BioWorld International, "As targets, ion channels are underexploited because they are very hard to handle. It struck MVM and the guys within CeNeS' ion channel screening group that the AutoPatch technology would be an excellent basis for a company to exploit this kind of target."

Brears previously was CEO of another MVM-funded company, Gendaq Ltd., of London, a specialist in the use of zinc finger DNA-binding protein to regulate protein expression. When Gendaq was acquired by Sangamo BioScience Inc. in June 2001, Brears became vice president for business development. He left Sangamo to form Xention.

The £4 million that MVM is putting into Xention will last two years, allowing the company to develop screens, find hits and do some work around them. "We not only have the technology to overcome the significant barriers of using ion channels as targets, we have the ability to generate chemistry that is specific to ion channels," Brears said. CeNeS previously sold its ion channel-focused chemical library to Scion Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Medford, Mass., for US$300,000 in cash and up to $500,000 in milestones.

AutoPatch is a computerized electrophysiology recording system for measuring the activity of modulators of ion channels, the gateways controlling the movements of biological ions across membranes. That is a significant advance to the previous manual technique of patch clamping, which is slow, technically intricate and requires highly skilled operators.

Modulators of ion channel function have potential in a range of central nervous systems disorders including pain, schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, anxiety, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

CeNeS has used AutoPatch internally in the discovery of pain treatments, and also sold five systems to GlaxoSmithKline plc for use in its R&D laboratories in Stevenage, UK, and Research Triangle Park, N.C., in December 2000.

Armed with the ion channel screening capability, Brears said the next task is to choose suitable targets. "There are public domain and proprietary targets out there and we need to select and prioritize them."

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