BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS The French functional proteomics company Hybrigenics SA raised EUR17 million (US$14.8 million) in a third funding round, bringing to EUR47 million the total funding it has raised since it was founded at the end of 1997.

The lead investor was Life Science Partners, of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Munich, Germany, and other new investors were Banexi Venture Partners and La Compagnie Financière Edmond de Rothschild, both of Paris. Three existing shareholders IMH of Germany, Lombard Odier of Switzerland and Alafi Capital of the U.S. also participated in the financing.

Paris-based Hybrigenics closed its last funding round in October 2000, when it netted EUR19.5 million from its four initial investors (Apax Partners and Auriga, of France; IMH; and HealthCap, of Sweden) and five new ones (Alafi Capital, Lombard Odier, Rendex NV and Sofindev, of Belgium, and Medicis AG, of Germany).

While declining to give details of the respective contributions of the participants in the latest funding round or of the current distribution of shareholdings, Hybrigenics’ CEO and chairman, Donny Strosberg, told BioWorld International that the largest shareholders now are Apax Partners, Lombard Odier, Banexi and Life Science Partners.

Strosberg explained that the company planned to use the funds to develop its high-throughput target validation platform. Hybrigenics seeks to elucidate protein functions as part of specific biological complexes or as networks of interacting proteins (pathways), and uses protein interaction mapping and generic and disease-specific cellular assays in human cells to identify and validate drug targets. Its drug discovery platform integrates biological and in silico experimentation for identifying, selecting, classifying and validating targets, and Hybrigenics plans to upscale the platform to an industrial level to support both its own drug discovery programs in the areas of infectious diseases, cancer and metabolic disorders and its research collaborations with third parties.

Those collaborations include three in the area of central nervous system diseases: with Paris-based Merck Sharpe & Dohme Ltd., for a joint neuroscience research program; with Oxford Glycosciences plc, of Abingdon, UK, for the screening of proteins associated with cancer and neurological disorders; and with Mindsense Biosystems Ltd., of Rehovot, Israel, for the identification of novel biomarkers and drug targets to diagnose and treat depression.

Its other collaborations are with Incyte Genomics Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif. (genomics research); Lynx Therapeutics Inc., of Hayward, Calif. (obesity and diabetes); Servier, of Neuilly-sur-Seine (cancer); XTL Biopharmaceuticals Ltd., of Rehovot, Israel (hepatitis C); the Paris-based Institut Pasteur and Institut Curie (infectious diseases and cancer, respectively); and the French National Aids Research Agency.

Strosberg said the revenues from those collaborations now take care of a substantial part of Hybrigenics’ burn rate, which amounted to EUR6 million in 2001. “I expect them to cover 50 percent of our burn rate in 2002,” he added. The company now has sufficient cash for three to four years, he said, stressing that it was not part of Hybrigenics’ business strategy to make profits. “We intend to invest our revenues in research and development and in clinical trials.”

He said the company’s next input of funds would come from an initial public offering in two to three years’, when it would be at the clinical development stage. While the company would have the resources to finance a Phase I trial, it would need additional funds to go beyond that. “You need good justification to launch an IPO. Saying you are going to carry out a Phase IIb trial is a good argument,” he observed. Its lead compound is a treatment for hepatitis C and Strosberg said animal studies would start before the end of the year.

Another priority for Hybrigenics is to develop an international presence, which in the first instance means in the U.S. “We plan to create a bridgehead in the U.S. very rapidly. My preference is to acquire an existing company, and one that has products at an advanced stage,” Strosberg said, adding that he expects to have something to announce this year.