LONDON ¿ Drug-design specialist De Novo Pharmaceuticals Ltd. raised #16.75 million (US$23.9 million) in an oversubscribed second-round funding to develop its cheminformatics capabilities and increase the number of drug-design partnerships it can support.

Co-founder Philip Dean told BioWorld International, ¿There is an enormous amount of interest out there. This was more than we asked for, and reflects, I think, [that] we have commercial validation and some contracts with pharma.¿

The funding was lead by Merlin Biosciences, and includes Life Science Partners, FNI, Quester, Cambridge Gateway, Incyte and Roche as new investors, joining Prelude Cambridge Research and Innovation, Avlar BioVentures, the University of Cambridge and Catalyst Biomedica as continuing investors.

Dean said the new funding would enable De Novo, based in Cambridge, to ¿expand the business significantly over and above what we have done in the first 15 months of existence.¿ The company will extend its capacity to do business, growing staff numbers from 20 now to 40-50 by the end of this year.

De Novo was spun out of Cambridge University in 1999 to commercialize software developed by Dean for in silico design of novel lead molecules. The company¿s proprietary algorithms can convert information from structural genomics and medicinal chemistry into new chemical designs. Existing partners include British Biotech, Aventis Pharmaceuticals and NV Organon.

David Bailey, co-founder and CEO, said De Novo¿s in silico discovery technology brings speed and accuracy to the process of finding leads to fit the ¿tidal wave¿ of molecular information arising from the Human Genome Project. ¿In partnership with De Novo, companies are now able to explore chemical and biological space in a truly comprehensive way, thereby expanding and more efficiently managing their discovery pipelines,¿ he said.

Bailey said he was particularly pleased to welcome Roche and Incyte as industrial investors. ¿We look forward to developing strategic relationships with these companies in the pharmaceutical discovery area. Our aim has always been to complement the natural strengths of partners in designing and developing high-value products and services.¿

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