LONDON ¿ Lorantis Ltd. announced the final closing of its second-round fund raising at #16.2 million (US$23.4 million), after taking a further #4.7 million since the first closing of #11.5 million in April 2001.

CEO Mark Bodmer told BioWorld International, ¿We¿re very pleased, particularly in the current environment, to get the company into such a good position. One of the existing investors had a new fund and wanted to put some more money in, and we were very pleased to pull in further investors.¿

The investors in the second closing are The Wellcome Trust and Northern Venture Managers, along with existing shareholder, Quester Capital Management.

Lorantis, based in Cambridge, is developing a drug discovery platform around its Notch technology for controlling T-cell function. Bodmer said the extra money would extend the company¿s self sufficiency for a further six to nine months, giving it enough money for 2.5 years, while also enabling it to bring two additional projects online. He expects to do another round before an initial public offering. ¿At that stage we will be into Phase I clinical studies, and will have a clearly defined development pipeline.¿

Notch is an immune response modifier that occurs on the surface of T cells. In the absence of a signal from Notch, T cells are activated to attack any antigen presented by antigen-presenting cells. But if the antigen-presenting cells have a Notch ligand, the immune response is switched to allow the body to tolerate the antigen.

Notch is expected to be a good approach to controlling the immune system because it is antigen-specific, the company said. Lorantis¿ initial approach will be to develop drugs for tolerizing the immune system against allergic allergens, for example, house dust mites. The technology also is applicable to autoimmune diseases, and cell and organ transplant rejection.

While quoted companies are finding it very difficult to raise money, several other private UK companies have had big funding rounds this year. Most recently, Ardana Biosciences Ltd. raised #13.3 million in its first round. Other big rounds include DeNovo Pharmaceuticals Ltd. at #16.75 million, Ribotargets Ltd. with #32 million, Cyclacel Ltd. at #34 million, Inpharmatica Ltd. with #31 million, and Astex Ltd. with #22.7 million.

¿There have been some very spectacular private rounds,¿ Bodmer said. ¿This is good because European companies have previously been underfunded at the early stages compared to their U.S. counterparts and that is one of the reasons why European biotechnology is underdeveloped compared to the U.S.¿

There is more money in venture capital funds in Europe, and Bodmer said biotechnology is benefiting from the flight from information technology since the demise of the dot-coms. ¿A handful of IT investors that I know are starting to look at biotech,¿ he said.

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