BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Microscience Ltd. raised £25.5 million (US$36.3 million) in a third-round funding, enabling it to put five infectious disease vaccines into clinical trials this year and develop them through to Phase IIb.

CEO Rod Richards told BioWorld International, “We are very pleased not only with the amount, but also with the investors. This is a small syndicate, all [of whom] bring more than the money.”

Advent Venture Partners and JP Morgan Partners led the round, and were joined by existing investors Apax Partners Funds and Merlin Biosciences.

Richards also signaled that Microscience intends to grow by acquisition. “This is about more than just growing a small company into a slightly bigger one. These investors have deep pockets. We have the money to take our core programs forward, and backers who would be supportive of M&As [mergers and acquisitions].”

Microscience’s lead product, an oral typhoid vaccine, is scheduled to start a large-scale clinical trial in the U.S. Four other vaccines against traveler’s diarrhea, meningitis B, neonatal group B streptococcus infections and a therapeutic vaccine for hepatitis B are expected to start trials during 2002.

The company plans to license some of these out once it has proof of efficacy, but Richards said the decision on which ones to partner will depend on how the trials progress.

The funding also allows Microscience, based in Wokingham, Berkshire, to broaden its vaccine discovery capability. The company has two platform technologies, Signature Tagged Mutagenesis, for the rapid detection of virulence genes in microbes, and spi-VEC, for the oral delivery of antigens. Richards said these technologies will continue to deliver development candidates, and with this funding he hopes to have another two or three products ready for clinical development.

However, he also plans to look outside for products. “When we look at where we would like to be in three to four years, we can’t do it with what we have internally we need more than that. Being a small or medium cap [company] is not attractive, and therefore, we want to bring in products.”

This funding round brings the amount raised by Microscience since it was founded in 1997 to £40 million.

“I’m extremely excited,” Richards said. “Our programs are validated, we have a strong pipeline, and vaccines in therapy are going to grow faster than drugs, so we are in the right space.”