BORNHEIM, Germany ¿ MBT Munich Biotechnology GmbH closed a EUR30 million (US$27 million) private placement in its second round of financing. The funds are expected to fuel research and development programs and go toward increasing staff and infrastructure development.

The Martinsried, Germany-based company wants to boost R&D programs in its liposomes platform, which is being developed to enable highly specific imaging and safer treatment of solid tumors and their metastases.

¿This technology is based on proprietary cationic [positively charged] liposomes, showing enhanced uptake in tumor blood vessels,¿ MBT Chief Scientific Officer Uwe Michaelis told BioWorld International. The liposomes carry imaging or cytotoxic agents.

The surface of tumor blood vessels is charged more negatively than vessels elsewhere in the body and the cationic liposomes are designed to preferentially bind to those negatively loaded surfaces, Michaelis explained. ¿In addition, features like the membrane fluidity of the cells lining the tumor blood vessels probably support binding of MBT¿s cationic liposomes,¿ he said. After binding their target cells, the vesicles release their imaging or cytotoxic payload.

¿It¿s simple in principle, but works very well,¿ Michaelis said. ¿Carrying a cytotoxic agent, the cationic liposomes caused very strong antitumor activity in our animal models.¿

Early clinical data showed that the carriers can successfully target tumor vessels in a patient¿s bladder, Michaelis said, adding that a clinical trial in the field of tumor diagnosis is planned to start by the end of this year.

The company expects its cationic liposomes to identify significantly smaller tumors than can be currently detected, permitting therapeutic intervention at the crucial early stage in tumor development and determining a tumor¿s potential to form blood vessels. Such potential closely correlates to its malignancy, MBT said.

Clinical trials for therapy are expected to start early in 2002, Michaelis said. For cancer therapy the liposomes carry paclitaxel as the cytotoxic agent. Applying its liposomes as drug carriers, MBT expects to overcome limitations of current cancer therapy, such as drug resistance and side effects, caused by non-selective distribution of the drugs in the body, the company said.

MBT also runs a gene therapy project using cationic liposomes for the delivery of plasmids encoding for the diphtheria toxin A-chain. MBT called preclinical results of this project promising.

With the funds raised MBT also wants to expand the scope of its R&D programs, increase headcount from 40 to 70 by the end of next year and invest in a new facility near Munich, MBT Chief Financial Officer Markus Bvcker said.

The intellectual property situation for the company is solid, Michaelis said. ¿We have patents on our proprietary cationic liposomes and patents covering the diagnostic and therapeutic use of these liposomes,¿ he said.

¿We are open for partnerships in R&D and clinical trials,¿ Bvcker said.

The company was founded in September 1998.

The current investment was led by Heidelberg Innovation, of Heidelberg. Co-investors were Deutsche Bank, of Frankfurt; Sal. Oppenheim, of Cologne; Deutsche Effecten und Wechselbeteiligungsgesellschaft, of Jena; Hypo-Vereinsbank, of Munich; and Global Vision, of Munich. First-round investors supporting the second round were Global Life Science LP, advised by Life Science Ventures, of Munich; 3I, of London; and tbg, of Bonn.

Including its first financing round the company has raised EUR38 million.

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