LONDON ¿ RiboTargets Ltd. succeeded in raising #32 million (US$47 million) in its third-round fund raising, one of the largest private rounds for a European company to date, and #12 million more than it set out to raise.

CEO Simon Sturge told BioWorld International, ¿We were aiming to raise #20 million and were substantially oversubscribed, even on #30 million. We decided to take more to allow the company, in addition to advancing its pipeline in anti-infectives, to move into oncology.¿

Although quoted companies are finding it extremely difficult to raise money, Sturge said, ¿There is still a substantial amount of money out there for private companies.¿ He says investors are picking the best companies and are prepared to put a lot of money in, ¿to make them grow very fast.¿

¿From the discussions we have had, investors are looking to fund private companies to the point where they have subcritical mass and can float at valuations over #100 million,¿ he said.

The #32 million will fund RiboTargets, based in Cambridge, for three years, and Sturge said he would expect an IPO at some stage before then. ¿By then we would expect to have a broad clinical pipeline.¿

The round was led by JPMorgan Partners, with another new investor, OrbiMed Advisors. Follow-on investors were Apax Partners, 3i plc, Advent Venture Partners, NIB Capital N.V. and Questor.

Other large private rounds this year include #34 million raised by Cyclacel Ltd., #31 million raised by Inpharmatica Ltd. and #22.7 million raised by Astex Ltd.

Currently, RiboTargets has 14 research projects built upon its expertise in the crystal structure of the bacterial ribosome and skills in structure-based design. Three projects are in antivirals, the rest in antimicrobials, and Sturge said the most advanced of these will enter preclinical and then clinical trials next year. Typically, anti-infectives have a shorter development time, because efficacy can be conclusively demonstrated at the preclinical stages.

A number of the antibiotics are broad spectrum, and RiboTargets will seek marketing partners for these, retaining niche products, such as hospital antibiotics, to commercialize itself.

Earlier this year RiboTargets partnered one of its projects with Johnson and Johnson, and Sturge said this collaboration is going well. He expects to partner one other project this year.

The move into oncology will build on structure-based design skills. ¿In oncology the molecular biology involved in the progression of tumors is now being understood, producing a range of targets,¿ Sturge said. RiboTargets has started work on the crystal structure of two public targets and said it expects to produce ligands next year.

RiboTargets was founded in July 1997 and raised #7 million in its first round, followed by a further #6 million in 2000.