By Aaron Lorenzo

Looking to further develop the region¿s biotech sector, the Quebec government loaned Caprion Pharmaceuticals Inc. up to US$18 million in a investment program that could exceed US$60 million.

The loan was obtained from Investissement Quebec, a government agency working to help Quebec¿s biotech companies create more jobs in the area.

¿I¿d say the government is interested on two levels,¿ said Lloyd Segal, Caprion¿s president and CEO. ¿One is from a strategic standpoint, looking to attract a critical mass of biotech companies to the Montreal area. The second level is job creation.¿

Segal said his company has grown from 30 employees at the beginning of the year to 70, with the majority of those added to the company¿s personnel ranks having Ph.D.s or other advanced scientific degrees.

The money is aimed at capital expenditures, such as completing Caprion¿s new 54,000-square-foot protein analysis facility. Ground was broken for the building in February, and its mass spectrometry product lab opened last month.

¿It¿s all very capital-intensive,¿ Segal said, adding that most of the funds will be directed toward mass spectrometry and Caprion¿s IT infrastructure.

The loan¿s payment schedule favors Caprion as well.

¿It¿s structured such that we can draw down whenever we want,¿ Segal said. ¿It¿s interest- and principal-free for two years ¿ that¿s the best rate you can get.¿

The Montreal-based private company raised US$40 million in a private placement nearly a year ago. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 6, 2000.)

Between last December and March, the company raised an additional US$5 million. Segal said Caprion¿s cash position has the company in good shape.

¿We don¿t need to go public,¿ he said. ¿There¿s no pressure from any of our constituents. And I think having cash these days may be more important than anything else for a proteomics platform company.¿

Caprion uses its subcellular proteomics discovery platform, CellCarta, for biological insights into a variety of diseases and to create pharmaceutical products. Segal said the company can isolate a cell down to half of 1 percent of the entire cell.

¿It¿s an approach that¿s absolutely distinct, isolating the subcompartments of a cell,¿ Segal said. ¿That¿s very difficult.¿

The company¿s programs include the diagnostic products for BSE (mad cow disease) and its human strain, Creutzfeldt-Jacob¿s Disease, as well as earlier-stage diagnostics and therapeutics programs in Alzheimer¿s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.