By Karen Young

With a $15 million second closing of its Series B financing, Altus Inc. ends the year having added $50 million in additional funds to bring on staff and focus on its internal drug development pipeline.

In October, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company said it raised an initial $35 million in Series B financing, which it planned to devote to continuing development of its Crystalomics protein crystallization technology. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 4, 2001.)

The company in March also gained $25 million in funding from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics Inc., the drug development affiliate of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. (See BioWorld Today, March 8, 2001.)

¿For several years, we will be well financed,¿ said Alexey Margolin, vice president of science for Altus.

To put into perspective what this year¿s funding means to the company, Altus had spent only $20 million from its inception in 1993 to October of this year. The company said it plans to double its 50-person staff over the next 12 to 18 months.

The Crystalomics platform is being applied not only to its internal drug development, which focuses on gastroenterology and metabolic diseases, but also to drug delivery and manufacturing.

Altus¿ lead product is TheraCLEC-Total, for nutrition-starved cystic fibrosis patients, for which the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is funding preclinical and clinical studies. The company had a pre-investigational new drug application meeting with the FDA regarding the drug candidate last week. Altus plans to file an IND for TheraCLEC-Total in early 2002, since it has completed ¿a significant portion of toxicology studies¿ for TheraCLEC-Total, Margolin said.

Altus is also looking at other disease areas, but ¿it¿s too early to comment¿ on those, he said.

In the booming proteomics market, Margolin said the company also has about 10 undisclosed partnerships with companies to use the Crystalomics technology to help them transform proteins into a crystalline form, which can be delivered orally.

¿Oral delivery of proteins is very difficult, because proteins are nothing but food and easily digested,¿ Margolin said, noting that Altus¿ technology enables proteins to become more stable so that they are digested in the gut, but do not enter the bloodstream.

Pancreatic insufficiency in cystic fibrosis and some metabolic diseases can benefit greatly from this approach, he said.

Margolin said a simple comparison is with the small-molecule drugs found in the neighborhood pharmacy. Most of these compounds are in crystalline form for purity and ease of handling. However, of large-molecule drugs, there is only one in crystalline form, and that¿s insulin, he said.

¿It¿s not because people don¿t realize the crystalline state is advantageous, and that¿s where our technology comes in,¿ Margolin said, noting that it may, in fact, ¿change the paradigm of therapeutic protein development.¿

In the first closing, Nomura International plc, of London, and U.S. Venture Partners, of Palo Alto, Calif., served as lead investors. Follow-on investors included CMEA Ventures, of San Francisco; China Development Industrial Bank, of Taiwan; Hotung International Company Ltd.; and the Palladian Group.