BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS CareX, a functional genomics company focused on the discovery of drugs for the treatment of metabolic disorders, raised EUR6 million (US$5.2 million) in an initial funding round.

The lead investor was Paris-based Sofinnova Partners, which provided EUR3.3 million, while GIMV, of Antwerp, Belgium, put up EUR2 million and Mara Ventures, a new Belgian-American fund with offices in Brussels, contributed EUR700,000. CareX, which is based in Strasbourg and was established in November, said it now has sufficient resources to fund its research and development programs for 18 months.

The company is a spin-off from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology (IGMCB) in Illkirch, near Strasbourg, itself an offspring of three public research establishments the National Scientific Research Center, the National Institute of Health and Medical Research and the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg.

The three organizations co-founded CareX in conjunction with Pierre Chambon and Johan Auwerx from the IGMCB, Samir Deeb of the University of Washington in Seattle and Bernard Gilly, the acting CEO of Sofinnova Partners. In addition, Jürgen Lehmann, previously head of the nuclear receptors program at Tularik Inc., of San Francisco, joined the company as chief scientific officer.

The company’s core technology combines functional genomics with medicinal chemistry and is based on an extensive knowledge of relevant nuclear receptors. It uses what it calls Serial Analysis of Gene Expression (SAGE) to identify genes associated with phenomena, such as insulin-resistance syndrome and obesity, after which its strategy is to validate target genes, identify the relevant disease pathways using mouse models, and apply high-throughput screening to select leads for optimization as drug candidates.

CareX is working with the University of Kuoppio in Finland, which is not only helping to develop its technology but also gives CareX privileged access to a collection of adipose tissues taken from patients and their families suffering from obesity and obesity-related disorders. Gilly told BioWorld International that it was a “real public-private partnership,” pointing out that Kuoppio had been monitoring families at risk of obesity for many years and had had the “foresight to take tissue samples each time a family member happened to undergo an operation.”

CareX is focusing its drug discovery effort on Type II diabetes, arterial hypertension, atherosclerosis and hypercholesterolemia. It has three targets in advanced stages of investigation and expects to start preclinical development of its first optimized lead by 2003. Gilly said its lead compound is a treatment for Type II diabetes that yielded improved uptake of insulin without the adverse side effects of weight gain or anemia. He said clinical trials of the drug are expected to begin early in 2004.

The company is now developing its own proprietary computer software for analyzing the data produced by SAGE. One of its projects is to create a database composed of adipocyte transcriptomes, differentially expressed genes, and information about gene function, to which biopharmaceutical companies operating in different therapeutic fields would be given access. It also plans to license out therapeutic targets, although Gilly stressed that it would have to perform hundreds of millions of sequencing operations in order to derive maximum value from those discoveries. Such deals would provide CareX with its first revenues, he said.