LONDON ¿ Synaptica Ltd. raised #3.5 million (US$5.1 million) in its first funding round, enabling it to accelerate its discovery program based on a proprietary peptide implicated in the earliest stages of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer¿s, Parkinson¿s and motor neuron diseases.

CEO Mike Capaldi told BioWorld International, ¿We would have liked a bit more, but that¿s what we took in the end. It gives us enough money for 18 months. We will raise more in the second half of 2002, and hope the market has improved by then.¿

Synaptica, based in Harwell, UK, was founded in 1997 by Susan Greenfield and David Vaux, both of Oxford University, to commercialize their research into the early causative factors in neurodegeneration. The company raised #602,000 in 2001 through a rights issue. Until December, when it moved into its own premises, Synaptica functioned as a virtual organization, running collaborations with a number of university and hospital research groups.

Capaldi said Synaptica has a multidisciplinary approach to building its CNS drug discovery platform, with expertise in peptide and protein chemistry, electrophysiology, experimental psychology, molecular biology, biochemistry and in silico screening.

The initial focus will be around the role of the proprietary Synaptica peptide (a fragment released from acetylcholinesterase) in Alzheimer¿s disease. ¿This exists in higher concentrations in Alzheimer¿s brains, and we have identified a receptor and the toxic mechanism whereby it causes its effect in Alzheimer¿s,¿ he said.

The Synaptica peptide gives rise to a number of potential products: the peptide itself, other compounds that fit the receptor, and a diagnostic test. Capaldi said the funding will ¿enable us to accelerate our screening program and generate some biological lead compounds by the end of 2002. Second, it will allow us to advance our in vitro diagnostic product to the stage where it can be out-licensed. Finally, it will help us strengthen our CNS discovery platform that will support further in-house, or collaborative, discovery platforms.¿

The company will use its academic contacts to source other targets to put through its drug discovery platform. ¿We also expect to do collaborations with other biotechs where our expertise will be valuable,¿ he said. ¿For example, we are developing our own models of memory and cognition testing in Alzheimer¿s that can measure subtle cognitive changes.¿