LONDON ¿ SynGenix Ltd., a specialist in neuronal drug delivery raised #5 million (US$7.3 million) in a second-round funding expected to last two years and enable the company to take its lead product into Phase I studies.

Although he was originally aiming to raise #10 million, CEO Tom Saylor told BioWorld International he was pleased with the result. ¿It has been a rocky road, with the climate going up and down. There have been a few very large late-stage private rounds, and there is a lot of seed funding around. But in terms of the mid-market, it has been very tight.¿

The round was co-led by Technomark Medical Ventures and WorldLife Sciences plc. Before this round, SynGenix, which was spun out of Cambridge University in 1992, had raised #2 million from venture capitalists and private investors.

The company was formed around ProVector, a drug delivery technology that relies on axonal transport, the process by which nerve cells maintain their sensory nerve endings, or axons. SynGenix has formulated compounds that are taken up by the axons and transported to the nervous system. Since nerves are territorial and map out particular segments of the body, ProVector allows the selective delivery of drugs to particular parts of the nervous system. The company said the technique could be used to deliver existing compounds, improving pain relief at the same time as reducing the dose required and cutting side effects.

ProVector can target both small-molecule drugs and macromolecules, and could be used for delivering genes.

SynGenix, based in Cambridge, has three programs ¿ in neuropathic pain, muscle spasm and post-operative pain. Saylor could not say what the first compound into trials will be because the company has not decided, but it will an off-patent drug delivered with ProVector.

Apart from taking the lead product through preclinical development and into Phase I, the money raised will enable SynGenix to expand its biology function and recruit business development staff.

The company has one collaborative deal with GlaxoSmithKline plc, agreed to in August 2000. Saylor said he will now be seeking further deals to rescue drugs that have failed because of delivery problems, and reformulate drugs that are coming off patent. He said ProVector also will be important in target validation.

¿We will license ProVector to companies with proprietary compounds to provide a delivery system, and compounds that have come off patent we will try to do in house. We will work with existing painkillers ¿ small molecules that are limited by dose because of side effects ¿ where we can increase the level of efficacy through targeted delivery.¿

Saylor said the collaboration with GSK is going well. ¿Obviously, there was some slowdown during the reorganization [following the merger of SmithKline Beecham and GlaxoWellcome], but the new organization is as keen as ever, and we are close to getting some compounds out.¿