By Brady Huggett

Chimeric Therapies Inc., in pivotal trials with its graft engineering technology for leukemia patients, raised nearly $10 million in funding and is looking for more.

The Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based company closed its round of venture financing, pocketing $9.7 million in an initial closing, and with that in hand, will focus on its trials.

¿It¿s going to be used primarily to support our leukemia clinical development program,¿ said Virgil Thompson, president and CEO of Chimeric. ¿We are pretty focused on enrolling patients in that.¿ Thompson said the company is beginning to enroll patients in its sickle cell anemia program as well, but in the next year, the $9.7 million will be funneled into leukemia trials.

Investors included Domain Associates, of Princeton, N.J.; Alloy Ventures, of Palo Alto, Calif.; 3i Biosciences, of London; France-based Sofinnova Ventures; Leeway & Co., of Boston; Alafi Capital, of Berkeley, Calif.; and Ell & Co., of New York.

Privately held Chimeric burns about $5 million to $8 million a year, Thompson said. So while the financing gives Chimeric financial security for at least the next year, Thompson said he¿d be looking for more just to be comfortable.

¿What we are looking to do is bring in another $10 million ¿ it could be in another round or more than one,¿ he said.

In a tight economy that shows no immediate sign of loosening, the fund-raising trail can be unstable. Thompson said Chimeric felt the effects.

¿It has been a challenging market for us, and it continues to be, but there is a fair amount of interest in what we are doing,¿ he told BioWorld Today. ¿We are having plenty of opportunities to present our technology to people. The people investing are really premier investors and have been very supportive. I¿m pleased about that.¿

The company¿s technology is designed to make curative bone marrow transplants available to all eligible patients, regardless of availability of related matched donors. Its core technology consists of removing certain T, B and natural killer cells from bone marrow while preserving cells that help stem cells engraft and downregulate GvHD.

Thompson explained how transplants work and how Chimeric¿s technology aims to open the bone marrow transplant door for a wider range of patients.

¿It is recognized today that bone marrow is the best cure for leukemia or sickle cell, but the use is fairly limited today because of the difficulty of finding donors,¿ Thompson said. ¿So we are attempting to demonstrate that we can get engraftment without causing early severe graft-vs.-host disease.¿

Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) are a factor in determining whether transplantation should occur. Each person has six HLAs ¿ three passed down from each parent.

The key to successful transplantation, Thompson said, is to use a predetermined composition of stem cells and other blood cells that allow all patients to receive a safe allogeneic bone marrow transplant, regardless of the degree of mismatch between the cellular immune system or HLA markers of the donor¿s bone marrow and that of the recipient. The trials will use Chimeric¿s cellular engineering technologies designed to allow transplantations using mismatched donors.

¿If you don¿t have a perfect six-of-six match, you are at high risk of getting severe graft-vs.-host disease,¿ Thompson said, adding that even if a donor and a patient have a six-of-six match but are unrelated, there is a danger of severe GvHD. The greater the degree of HLA mismatch and the older the patient, the greater the risk of GvHD, he said.

This knowledge is the basis for Chimeric¿s pivotal trial with leukemia patients. Chimeric is enrolling patients having an unrelated donor with a six-of-six match in a randomized trial, as well as relatives with five-of-six matches who are younger than 35. For the higher-risk groups, Chimeric is conducting a nonrandomized trial in patients with unrelated donors more than 35 years of age with a five-of-six match and another nonrandomized trial in related donors with a three-of-six and four-of-six HLA match.

¿We expect the trials to take another 12 months,¿ Thompson said. For the high-risk patients ¿ the two nonrandomized trials ¿ Chimeric will look to file soon after the trials are completed and the data analyzed. Thompson said he anticipates needing more data for the randomized trial with the patients with a lesser risk of getting GvHD.

With the occurrence of graft-vs.-host disease high among transplant patients, many doctors won¿t consider it an option unless an ideal donor is found, something difficult to do. Thompson said he hopes to increase the number of donors patients can look at.

¿What we have been told by transplant physicians is that if we can reduce incidences of [GvHD] at least 50 percent, they would try transplants more often,¿ Thompson said.