LONDON ¿ Cyclacel Ltd., which is developing cancer therapeutics around cell-cycle targets, raised #34 million (US$47.7 million) in what it said is the largest private placement by a European company.

CEO Spiro Rombotis told BioWorld International, ¿The money will last around two years, by which time we would want to float. But we are more interested in building a robust business than rushing to market and finding the company is not quite cooked yet.

¿In the UK it is not the tradition for a private company to raise this amount of money. The question is: Does the company have enough space to spend it?¿

The placement, which was oversubscribed, was led by Invesco Private Capital, of New York, and included BankInvest Asset Management, of Copenhagen, Denmark; Lloyds TSB Development Capital, of London; Vertex Management, of Singapore; GeneChem Management, of Montreal; Singapore Economic Development Board; Noble Grossart, of Edinburgh, UK; Quester Capital Management, of London; and Finsbury Life Sciences Investment Trust, of London.

The money will allow Cyclacel, based in Dundee, Scotland, to accelerate its development programs. It currently has one compound, CYC202, an oral cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor designed to initiate apoptosis, in Phase I. Rombotis said the aim is to have two further compounds in the clinic and to expand the preclinical program.

¿The profile we are aiming for when the money is spent is to have three products in clinical trials and a very robust pipeline of preclinical products, which you need given attrition rates.¿

One route to boosting the preclinical pipeline will be increased investment in Polgen, its cancer genomics division, which Cyclacel spun out of Cambridge University. Polgen has rights to 100 gene mutations that appear to be effective in controlling cell division in cancer cells. Cyclacel is taking these targets and pushing them through its rational small-drug design process. ¿This is a hugely important business for us. A lot of our future targets are coming from here,¿ he said.

Rombotis also aims to do more deals with academic groups, to help them commercialize research without going through the grief.

¿There are a lot of academics who want to commercialize their research, but don¿t want to spend three to four years going through the arduous process of raising venture capital and setting up a company. As we have done with Polgen, we can incubate without dominating, and create enormous value for both parties.¿

A further aim is to increase the number of partnerships. In April Cyclacel signed an #8 million deal with AstraZeneca plc for a research-stage cancer program in small-molecule inhibitors of the cell cycle. The collaboration is focusing on inhibitors of the cyclin-binding groove, which is targeted by the body¿s own tumor suppressor genes to arrest the cell cycle and push cancer cells toward apoptosis. Cyclacel will develop mimetics of the gene products, while AstraZeneca will optimize leads and carry out preclinical and clinical development.

This was Cyclacel¿s fourth program in terms of proximity to the clinic, validating the company¿s ability to partner programs at different stages of development. Rombotis said he has begun to negotiate with potential partners to take on some of the targets coming out of Polgen. Cyclacel cannot digest all the targets coming out of Polgen itself, and such deals will provide an important validation of Cyclacel¿s approach of using small-molecule drugs to prevent cancer cells from cycling.

Cyclacel was founded in 1996 by David Lane, discoverer of p53, the tumor suppressor gene.

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