CellGate Inc. defines its mission as striving to create more effective and safer drugs from existing drugs with transporter technology.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company, now led by president and CEO Edward Schnipper, is doing that with technology developed at Stanford University.

"The technology is designed to facilitate the transport of drugs into tissues and into cells," Schnipper said, adding it has "universal applicability."

"We have established ourselves already in a leadership position in this new field of transporter technology, and we think it represents a new way forward in drug delivery," he said.

Before joining CellGate as executive vice president in September and subsequently being named CEO and president in July, Schnipper was most recently vice president of clinical development at ALZA Corp., of Mountain View, Calif.

Schnipper said CellGate's strategy is to evolve into a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on oncology and dermatology that can develop both products for itself and with partners. Schnipper is now in discussions with several potential partners, he said.

CellGate's scientific founders in 1998 were Jonathan Rothbard, now chief scientific officer, and Paul Wender, who serves on its board.

The company said its transporters expedite update of diverse sets of molecules, including small organic molecules, biopolymers such as proteins and peptides, and nucleic acids. CellGate has developed a variety of linkers by which drugs are attached and later released inside the cell.

Schnipper calls CellGate a "product-driven company," whereby the company uses its technology to develop new chemical entities from existing drugs. The company has patents of its own, as well as patents licensed from Stanford, he said.

"We actually create a chemical bond, and each individual chemical bond is patentable," he said.

The company is in the clinic with a Phase II proof-of-concept trial of a topical therapy for psoriasis using its transporters with cyclosporine, which is known to be effective against psoriasis. Results of the trial for that product, PsorBan, are expected before year's end, Schnipper said.

But CellGate is working on a number of projects, he said, including putting the "finishing touches" on a second topical product that it plans to have in the clinic next year. The company also is working on a topical therapy for pain.

However, Schnipper said CellGate is interested in other areas, including products delivered intravenously and intrapulmonary. The company also has a program to topically administer therapy aimed at the back of the eye, a drug delivery method that has potential for treating such diseases as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

"We have a number of conjugates currently in animal testing now," Schnipper said.

In April, CellGate expanded its drug development operations by acquiring the assets of A.R. Kamm Associates, of Cary, N.C., formerly a clinical research organization, and by expanding its headquarters in Sunnyvale. The North Carolina facility provided CellGate with clinical development infrastructure and capabilities. The renovation of the Sunnyvale headquarters enhanced CellGate's chemistry and biological preclinical resources.

Privately held CellGate has raised about $40 million since its inception, and it has enough cash to last about a year, Schnipper said. Company executives will begin another round of financing soon, since clinical trials are a major financial commitment.

There are about 40 employees at the company, and Schnipper said he expects to add about a dozen more employees in research, as well as clinical and regulatory areas, by the end of 2003.

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