LONDON ¿ Ardana Bioscience Ltd., a specialist in reproductive health, raised #13.3 million (US$20 million) in its first round of financing.

Chief Financial Officer Mark Keatley told BioWorld International, ¿We¿re now fully resourced for two and a half years and can move ahead aggressively with our program of drug development. We are targeting several areas, and in each area there is a large market and significant unmet medical need.

¿We are really, really pleased to have such an international spread of investors. We were offered enough money from UK investors but decided as a matter of policy to take it wider, and have drawn in investors from the U.S., [mainland] Europe and Japan.¿

The round was led by Merlin Biosciences Fund, which invested #4 million, with existing investor MVM Ltd. putting in #2 million, and new investors including ABN-AMRO Capital, 3i, Mitsubishi Corp. and Green Highlander.

Ardana raised #1.2 million when it was formed in July 2000 to commercialize research carried out at the UK Medical Research Council¿s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh. It has exclusive rights over five years to research carried out at the unit, which employs 100 scientists and receives public funding of #3.8 million per annum.

¿Thanks to the deal with the MRC we are already down the curve,¿ Keatley said. ¿We are at the same stage as far-older companies. The research is generally regarded as the top in the world, and we had no need to set up labs or hire scientists. We can concentrate on building the development and commercialization side.¿

The five projects going forward ¿ in male contraception, female sexual dysfunction, cervical ripening (for induction of labor) and two in menstrual disorders ¿ have been selected from a portfolio of 15 projects. ¿We have done a very thorough assessment of markets to prioritize and chosen those at the intersections of the best science and the best markets,¿ Keatley said.

He said he expects the lead project, in cervical ripening, to be in the clinic within the next two years, along with one other project.

Ardana, based in Edinburgh, also has been approached by a number of companies to in-license technologies. ¿The idea is that we could set up joint projects to add value to products others have developed,¿ Keatley said.

In addition, it is in talks concerning out-licensing technologies that have applications outside the reproductive health field. ¿For example, some of our research is relevant in oncology and we believe we could build some royalty positions,¿ Keatley said.