Aegera Therapeutics Inc. raised C$17 million (US$10.7 million) in a private round of financing, which it will use to move its XIAP antisense program into Phase I trials in cancer next year.

This is the first round of financing for Aegera, of Montreal, since it was formed after the merger of Exogen Neurosciences Inc. and Apoptogen Inc. in May 2000, said John Gillard, chief scientific officer for Aegera.

“[The financing should] get us through the next two and a half to three years,” Gillard said. “This money is designed to get us into the clinic, but clearly we’ll be looking for a mezzanine round before we do our IPO.”

The funding also will allow Aegera to continue adding staff, particularly in medicinal chemistry and process chemistry. After adding to its preclinical research staff, Aegera now has 35 employees, but the company expects to grow that number to 40 by the end of the year, Gillard said.

Aegera focuses on two platforms, one of which is the control of apoptosis.

“We made the fundamental discoveries in cellular apoptosis,” Gillard said of Apoptogen.

The proteins associated with apoptosis are called the IAPs, or inhibitors of apoptosis. The second platform is signal transduction targets that are upstream from the genes, Gillard said. If they are turned off, they can contribute to apoptosis or cell death in cancer.

Gillard said a number of acute neurodegenerative disorders are a result of early or unnecessary apoptosis. If these proteins are turned on, they can prevent damage in the central nervous system, permitting the survival of neurons under situations of profound stress. For example, in the case of stroke, much of the damage does not come from the initial event, but from continuing cell death in the aftermath. If this can be stopped, less damage may occur.

“We’re now pretty well aware that many irreversible neurological [problems] owe their nastiness to widespread neuronal loss, and we believe we can control that,” Gillard said.

The company also focuses on retinal apoptosis leading to blindness and the facilitation of pancreatic islet cell transplantation.

The funding was co-led by new investors Genechem Therapeutics Venture Fund LP and the Solidarity Fund, both of Montreal. Additional new investors include the Business Development Bank of Canada, of Montreal; Investissement Desjardins and Capital régional et coopératif Desjardins, of Montreal; and T2C2/Bio 2000 LP, of Montreal.

All previous investors also participated in the round: CDP Sofinov, of Montreal; Innovatech Grand Montreal, of Montreal; and Canadian Medical Discovery Fund, Neuroscience Partners LP, Working Ventures Canadian Fund Inc. and MedTech Partners, all of Ontario.