By Karen Young

While a scientist at ImClone Systems Inc. in New York, Jeffrey Moore discovered a drug that excited him so much, he decided to start a company based on it.

ImClone decided to out-license the drug candidate in late 1997. And Phylogix Inc., based in Scarborough, Maine, was founded in 1998 to focus on FRIL (Flt3 base receptor-interacting lectin), a lectin derived from hyacinth beans that Moore said has the unique ability to preserve blood-making stem cells in progenitors in a dormant state in culture ¿ even in the presence of potent stimulators.

Moore said that he is not aware of any soluble factor that does what FRIL has proven to do in vitro.

Earlier this month, privately held Phylogix completed a $2.95 million private placement of Series A preferred stock. The investment was led by the Biotechnology Value Fund LP, of San Francisco, and included the Small Enterprise Growth Fund, of Maine.

¿The cytokines and chemokines that regulate hematopoiesis either stimulate or inhibit blood cell production, but there is no agent that will hold these in a dormant state for prolonged periods,¿ said Moore, who is president of Phylogix. ¿This will have very exciting possibilities for clinical applications.¿

Chemotherapy kills all actively dividing cells, and the bone marrow produces several hundred million cells every minute, which is why the blood-making system is susceptible to chemotherapy, Moore said.

¿This drug will be able to better protect the bone marrow from chemotherapy by temporarily preventing proliferation of those actively dividing cells,¿ Moore said. ¿If they¿re dormant, they are less susceptible to the toxic effects of chemotherapy.¿

Phylogix tested this hypothesis in mice, and found that when given FRIL before and during chemotherapy, survival was improved dramatically.

¿What was most surprising in these studies is that the drug prevented the weight loss associated with chemotherapy and that our drug acts beyond the bone marrow in possibly protecting the gastrointestinal system as well,¿ Moore said.

The surviving mice lost about 10 percent of their body weight after chemotherapy, compared to 30 percent in those in the control group.

¿The financing that we recently received will fund the next stage of our growth, which will be to start to make the drug in preparation for starting human clinical trials, and to conduct further preclinical pharmacology and toxicology studies,¿ Moore said.

The company since its inception also received $600,000 in grants from the Maine Technology Institute, which was formed by the state legislature in 1999 to fund research and development efforts in seven areas, including biotechnology.

Moore said that the drug may have additional applications in repairing tissue damaged by other acute ¿insults,¿ such as radiation, heart attacks and strokes.

¿The field of regenerative medicine, which will use stem cells to repair damaged tissues, is an area that has tremendous potential for improving health,¿ Moore said. ¿We believe our technology will have applications in regenerative medicine by using FRIL attached to magnetic beads to isolate stem cells capable of repairing damaged tissues.¿

The manufacturing and pharmaceutical development will be completed with contract consulting or manufacturing groups, he said. The money is expected to carry the company for the next year and a half to two years. Within a year, the number of employees is expected to grow from its current five to 10.