PARIS ¿ The U.S. company Ichor Corp. raised US$2 million in a private placement arranged by MFC Merchant Bank, of Geneva, to finance the activities of its French subsidiary Hippocampe, which is developing novel therapies and vaccines for the treatment of retroviral and autoimmune diseases.

John Musacchio, chief operating officer at Ichor, told BioWorld International that the Delaware-registered corporation was a shell company quoted on the OTC Bulletin Board that acquired Hippocampe through a reverse merger in March. Since Hippocampe constitutes Ichor¿s only business activity, all the funds raised will be available to the French subsidiary. They were provided by a consortium of European investors composed of venture capital funds and individuals, and Musacchio said they would ¿enable Hippocampe to build solid foundations to support and demonstrate the truly interesting nature of its novel approach to the prevention and treatment of AIDS.¿

AIDS, in both its human and animal manifestations, is one of the primary pathologies on which Hippocampe is focusing its research and development program. Based in Lyon, the company was founded in 1990 by Pierre-Frangois Serres to exploit his discovery that HIV infection can generate an immune response directed against the immune system itself. His argument is that, since the HIV virus has to enter a target cell in order to replicate, it uses receptors that already exist.

Serres started from the assumption that, in order to interact with the membrane receptors used, the proteins forming the viral envelope have to mimic the host proteins, which use the same cell receptors. He found that HIV¿s viral envelope closely imitates interleukin-2. More specifically, he identified a tridimensional functional mimicry between well-conserved zones of GP41 (the transmembrane protein of HIV) and human IL-2. He also established that this virus/host mimicry exists in three species affected by AIDS: man, the monkey and the cat.

Hippocampe is developing four kinds of products to exploit these discoveries:

¿ Therapeutic molecules aimed at blocking the entry of the virus into the target cell;

¿ Therapeutic vaccines designed to trigger an immune system response against the transmembrane glycoprotein of the virus (GP41 in man, GP36 in the cat) and not against the IL-2 of the infected host;

¿ Preventive vaccines with novel modes of action; and

¿ Therapeutic immune cartridges aimed at selectively removing potentially immunosuppressive antibodies identified in the serum of HIV-infected patients.

According to Musacchio, the funds raised, together with public research grants, will be enough to keep Hippocampe going for a year or more. ¿Its burn rate is low at present, since most of its research is done by six outside laboratories,¿ he said. The company also was ¿evaluating several possible strategic alliances, which will cut development time substantially.¿ In the absence of such a partnership, he added, it would be two years before Hippocampe had a product ready to take into clinical trials.

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