BORNHEIM, Germany ¿ Xantos Biomedicine GmbH closed a EUR21 million (US$18.7 million) private placement in its second round of financing. The money is expected to boost the company¿s functional genomics research projects and to improve its proprietary robot screening technology, Xantos CEO Peter Buckel said.

Martinsried, Germany-based Xantos focuses on the discovery of new drug targets based on the search for novel gene functions. Xantos¿ first working area is in programmed cell death, or apoptosis.

¿First, we are looking for genes that induce apoptosis. Then we try to match the results with pathologic tissue. We investigate in which diseases the apoptosis-inducing genes are overexpressed,¿ Buckel explained.

In one of its projects, the company aims at protecting neurons from degeneration, which occurs in diseases such as Parkinson¿s and Alzheimer¿s, Buckel said.

¿We are also working on a cellular assay system to investigate the inhibition of formation of blood vessels ¿ angiogenesis,¿ he added. Xantos researchers are trying to block angiogenesis by inducing apoptosis in endothelial cells, thus inhibiting endothelial cell proliferation. ¿The inhibition of endothelial cell proliferation is an important possibility to fight restenosis, the re-closure of therapeutically opened atherosclerotic blood vessels in cardiovascular disease. Moreover, this approach is important for potential cancer treatment,¿ Buckel explained, adding, ¿Cancer in general is a disease on which we want to apply our target discovery system.¿

The company¿s proprietary robot screening technology, XantoScreen, enables researchers to screen, depending on the assay used, 5,000 to 20,000 different single cDNAs as copies of single genes per day for their functions in living cells.

On the same machines Xantos can perform drug screening. The company plans to search and develop small molecules as potential drug compounds, which either block or enhance the newly discovered functions, Buckel said. For example, in the case of cancer cells, triggering apoptosis by small compounds is desirable, he added.

Inhibiting apoptosis might treat degenerative diseases. Xantos researchers produced early results showing the blockade of apoptosis in cardiomyocytes, experimentally induced by overexpression of a protein discovered by the company¿s screening technology. This protein has been known for some time to be overexpressed in the heart disease dilative cardiomyopathy. Its apoptosis-inducing role was unknown and discovered by the Xantos high-throughput screen, Buckel said.

In addition Xantos plans to investigate adult stem cell differentiation. ¿Our approach is the most direct approach to look for differentiation of cells. Our screening technology enables us to find the genes responsible for differentiation in a reasonable time,¿ he said.

The current financing round was lead by GIMV, of Antwerp, Belgium. Other new investors were Oxford Bioscience Partners, of Boston, and The Global Life Science Ventures Funds II, of Zug, Switzerland, and Munich. First-round investors, who joined in the second round as well, were Global Life Science Holding VIII, of Munich, and Alta California Partners, of San Francisco.

Other first-round investors were Bayern Kapital, of Munich, and tbg, of Bonn. Xantos closed its first financing round at EUR8 million. n