By Karen Young

Special to BioWorld Today

Nereus Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised $23.6 million in its second round of financing to continue research in its marine microbial drug discovery programs, add staff and continue development of its lead anti-inflammatory compound.

¿We were [seeking] funding in January of this year, so again it was hard work,¿ said Kobi Sethna, president and CEO of San Diego-based Nereus. ¿We were successful; we had a good plan.¿

Pacific Venture Group, of Redwood Shores, Calif., led the round. Other new investors included Novartis Bioventure Fund, of Basel, Switzerland; China Development Industrial Bank, of Taipei, Taiwan; Blue Dot Capital, of Singapore; Hong Kong-based Lotus Biosciences Ventures; and Swissfirst, of Zurich, Switzerland.

In its first round of financing last year, Nereus raised $8.6 million. Series A investors added $12 million in this round. They included Forward Ventures, of San Diego; Alta Partners, of San Francisco; GIMV, of Antwerp, Belgium; JAFCO, of Tokyo; and Tech Amp International, of Durham, N.C.

Sethna said he expects this new influx of cash to last between 2.5 and three years, and go to continue Nereus¿ focus on three areas: anti-infective, inflammatory and cancer drugs.

¿Our goal is to have compounds from discovery all the way through early clinical trials, and we do intend to partner once our compounds either reach the clinic or become clinical candidates,¿ Sethna said. ¿We may not do this for every compound; we may retain some for ourselves.¿

The company¿s lead compound, a TNF-alpha synthesis/IL-1 inhibitor named NPI-1302a-3, is an anti-inflammatory compound for treating rheumatoid arthritis that should be ready for the clinic in one year. Nereus said last year the candidate would be ready for trials by now, but Sethna said instead the company decided to move forward with an analogue believed to be a better candidate.

Adding that the company is actively screening its collections, Sethna said he is unsure whether it will be the anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer or anti-infective candidates that lead the way.

¿I can¿t tell you right now which will be the ones that predominate,¿ Sethna said.

Also with its new financing, Nereus will be hiring staff for its discovery activities in microbiology, analytical chemistry and screening.

Nereus is able to add to its development pipeline through an exclusive license with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, from which it has access to marine microorganism discoveries. Nereus claims to be the only company 100 percent focused on discovery directly through oceanic microorganisms.

In addition to NPI-1302a-3, the company¿s pipeline includes NPI-2350, a novel microtubule inhibitor for the treatment of certain cancers, and NPI-3866, a non-nucleoside antiviral compound.

NPI-1302a-3 is an orally administered TNF-alpha and IL-1 inhibitor that initially will be targeted at rheumatoid arthritis. Nereus said that based on laboratory models, NPI-1302a-3 may offer an improved efficacy and safety profile, as well as dosing convenience over existing treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.

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