BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Innate Pharma SAS raised €20 million (US$20 million) in a second funding round, €5 million more than it was seeking.

The two lead investors - providing €10 million between them - were Alta Partners, of San Francisco, and Paris-based Axa Private Equity. Other contributors were Gilde Biotech & Nutrition, of Utrecht, the Netherlands; Pechel Industries, of Paris; and Innoveris, of Marseille.

The Marseille-based company's three existing shareholders, Sofinnova Partners, of Paris; GIMV, of Antwerp, Belgium; and Auriga, of Paris, also participated in the financing, subscribing 30 percent of the total. The three companies had invested $4.5 million between them in the company's initial funding round, completed in April 2000.

Innate's CEO, Hervé Brailly, told BioWorld International that Alta and Sofninnova are now the company's largest shareholders, with very similar holdings. Axa and GIMV follow behind them and also have invested similar amounts.

Taking into account the interest-free loan of €2 million it received from the French National Research Promotion Agency in March, Innate now has funding to last it for two and a half to three years, Brailly said, assuming an annual burn rate of €6 million to €7 million. He added that another financing operation is expected in the second half of 2004, which could take the form of a private placement or an initial public offering, depending on the state of the financial markets and on the outcome of the company's first clinical trials.

Innate's priorities now are to take its three leading cancer therapies into clinical development and to launch a research program for the development of second-generation products.

Innate expects to begin a Phase I/II trial this fall with Innacell-gd, a cell therapy for the treatment of renal carcinoma. The product entails the ex vivo use of a new chemical entity to activate a subpopulation of cells having antitumor activity (T g9d2 cells). That trial is scheduled to take place in France and would be followed by a Phase IIa trial starting toward the end of 2003, Brailly said.

Phosphostim is Innate's drug designed to stimulate the immune system by activating T g9d2 cells. It is being developed in two oncological indications - multiple myeloma and renal carcinoma. A Phase I/II trial is scheduled for the second half of 2003, with a Phase IIa trial to follow in 2004.

Kiromab, a cytotoxic monoclonal antibody designed to help treat certain cutaneous lymphomas for which there are no satisfactory therapies, is expected to begin clinical trials in 2004.

The company is not planning to accelerate its clinical development program as a result of the larger-than-expected amount raised in the financing, Brailly said. But the additional financial cushion would make it easier to cope with any possible setbacks, as well as enable it to plan further ahead.

Brailly also stressed that another priority for the company is to extend its technology platform to other therapeutic areas in collaboration with third parties. But he stressed that "Innate's corporate focus remains cancer" and pointed out that the second-generation products it is planning to develop also will be in cancer.

The company's strategy is to take its drug candidates to the Phase IIa trial stage, then look for partners to participate in further development.

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