LONDON ¿ Start-up Ionix Pharmaceuticals Ltd. raised #8 million (US$11.4 million) in its first funding to develop novel analgesics tailored to treat pain caused by chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetic neuropathy.

The company has proprietary ion channel targets it said will enable it to develop an analgesic that acts on the perception and signaling of pain in each of these diseases.

Andy Sandham, president and chief executive, told BioWorld International, ¿The drug targets in analgesia have not changed in 60 years, so there is a real opportunity to come in with new targets. Our targets are selective for each disease and operate outside the central nervous system, so they are not addictive.¿

Ionix is based on the research carried out at University College London by founding scientist John Wood, a specialist in the peripheral nervous system, and the detection and understanding of pain caused by different pathologies. ¿His work has led to the discovery of specific targets in different diseases, and there will be more targets coming out of his lab,¿ said Sandham. The company will be based in Cambridge.

Chairman Anne Hayes is a neurology expert who worked on the discovery and development of analgesic and CNS drugs at GlaxoWellcome plc for over 20 years. Sandham himself is a veteran of the biotech start-up. He was involved in the formation of Cantab Pharmaceuticals and Hexagen among others, and has been lured back to the UK from Hayward, Calif., where he was CEO of Signature Biosciences.

The funding was led by Apax Partners with the venture capital arm of the medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust. Ionix preempted the need for seed funding by putting a management team together and organizing the intellectual property before founding the company.

Sandham said the #8 million will allow the company to set up screening and chemistry, and start four projects ¿ three around novel targets and a fourth, drawing on the expertise of Anne Hayes, using known chemical entities against known targets. ¿This fourth project will be in analgesics, but will not draw on our core technology,¿ Sandham said. ¿The aim is to get into the clinic quickly and start to build relationships with clinicians.¿

Ion channel targets have attracted plenty of interest but, to date, have proved difficult to work with because of problems of selectivity and in developing assays. Sandham said that the expertise of Wood will enable Ionix to solve these issues. ¿These targets are difficult to work with because they are not single molecules, but clusters,¿ he said. ¿[Wood] has a good understanding of the targets, and it was this expertise that gave me the confidence to join the company.¿

Pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest in working with Ionix. ¿We will have opportunities to collaborate, but with #8 million we won¿t have to do deals for the money,¿ Sandham said. By the time the initial funding is exhausted in 24 months, Sandham expects to be moving the fourth project into Phase I trials, to have a lead series in preclinical development in one of the novel targets and some good hits in the other two.