PARIS ¿ ExonHit Therapeutics SA completed a third funding round in which it raised EUR30 million (US$26.5 million) from nine European venture capitalist funds, four of which are first-time investors in the Paris-based functional genomics company.

This latest injection of funds comes a little more than a year after a second-round financing that netted ExonHit EUR14 million in September 2000.

The four newcomers are London-based Dresdner Kleinwort Capital, the lead investor; Danske Bank, of Copenhagen, Denmark; LCF E. de Rothschild, of Paris; and Sudinnova, of Lyon. All the company¿s existing venture capital investors participated. They are Oxford BioScience Partners, of Boston, and four French funds all based in Paris ¿ BNP-Paribas Banexi Venture III, CDC Innovation, Sofinnova Partners and AGF Private Equity.

ExonHit¿s CEO, Bruno Tocqui, told BioWorld International that, while Dresdner Kleinwort made a ¿significant investment¿ that put it on a par with the existing investors, no shareholder had an appreciably greater stake than the others. He added that the company still had several months of cash reserves in the bank and that this latest injection of funds would enable it to step up its burn rate next year to EUR1 million a month, which was ¿a lot more than now.¿

That increase will be required to fund clinical trials of the lead candidates in ExonHit¿s portfolio of therapeutic and diagnostic products. ¿We are now focusing on drug development, because our technology platform is largely in place,¿ Tocqui said. That platform is based around DATAS (differential analysis of transcripts with alternative splicing), a qualitative gene profiling technology invented by ExonHit that permits detection of relevant changes in mRNA sequences resulting from alternative RNA splicing without high-throughput sequencing. It provides input at all stages of the drug research and development process, from target identification and lead optimization to toxicity evaluation and pharmacogenomic evaluation.

¿No other company has access to the same type of information,¿ Tocqui said.

As well as making this technology available to third parties, ExonHit is using it to develop its own portfolio of what it calls Ready for Development Compounds. It is focusing on two types of pathology, cancers and neurological disorders, and in addition to therapeutic compounds is developing corresponding diagnostic tools as well.

Tocqui said ExonHit plans to initiate Phase I/II clinical trials of its two leading compounds, EHT-201 and EHT-202, in 2002. Both are being developed for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other major central nervous system disorders and are fully characterized in terms of toxicology, pharmacokinetics and pharmacogenomics terms.

The company also is developing two products for the treatment of cancer, EHT-101 and EHT-102. Tocqui said preclinical studies of the first would be completed by the end of next year and that Phase I trials could start in 2003.

As regards its broader corporate strategy, Tocqui said that developing its U.S. activities remained a top priority. The company set up an American subsidiary, ExonHit Therapeutics Inc., in Gaithersburg, Md., at the beginning of this year, and last month it signed its first collaboration agreement with an American company, Allergan Inc., of Irvine, Calif., a specialist in ophthalmic medicines. Allergan will use ExonHit¿s target identification technology Signal-Hit to identify new molecular targets in a particular area of its drug discovery program. (See BioWorld International, Nov. 7, 2001.)

But ExonHit also is interested in developing its activities in France, and in that regard Tocqui acknowledged that the participation in the latest funding round of Sudinnova, a regional venture capital fund focused on the southeastern quarter of France, ¿could be significant.¿