By Kim Coghill
Epicyte Pharmaceutical Inc., the developer of Plantibodies technology for manufacturing human monoclonal antibodies in plants, raised $16 million in its Series D financing.
Mich Hein, president of San Diego-based Epicyte, said since the company was formed in 1996, it has raised in total $25 million and currently has about $16 million in available cash.
Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., of San Diego, was the lead investor. Others were Tullis-Dickerson & Co., of Greenwich, Conn.; CMEA Life Sciences, of San Francisco; Dow Chemical Co., of San Diego; and Milepost Ventures LP, of San Francisco.
"We're happy to have Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. join our funding base," Hein said. "We now have both Dow Chemical Co. and Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. and a number of venture firms. We're comfortable with the balanced mixture of venture investors and strategic investors from the pharmaceutical and manufacturing sides."
The money raised in the recent round is earmarked specifically to advance Epicyte's infectious disease and sexual health antibody products to clinical development. HX8, the company's lead product, is an anti-herpes antibody that is expected to enter clinical trials in the first quarter of 2003. An anti-sperm antibody for the prevention of conception also is in development. Subsequent products will include preventive agents for pulmonary infection by respiratory syncyticial virus and Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea.
Epicyte has extensive intellectual property for production of antibodies in plants, with three issued patents exclusively licensed from The Scripps Research Institute. Eight additional patent applications are pending.
Epicyte's Plantibodies technology can be used to produce unlimited quantities of pharmaceutical-grade human antibodies and related molecules in plants, the company said. Current antibody production has limited capacity and is an expensive process, with costs to scale-up the manufacture of antibodies approaching $400 million per facility, it said. Epicyte said its Plantibodies technology turns agricultural plants into antibody factories, enabling the production of antibodies and related molecules at prices considerably lower than traditional animal cell culture-based systems, while also significantly reducing manufacturing capital requirements.
In February, Biovation Ltd., of Aberdeen, UK, a member of the Merck KGaA group, and Epicyte signed a research agreement under which Biovation will apply its proprietary Biodisplay and DeImmunization technologies to generate and optimize antibodies for commercial development using Epicyte's Plantibodies technology. In return, Biovation will earn research revenues, milestones and royalties on product sales.
Epicyte also has a manufacturing and collaboration agreement with Dow Chemical and Dow AgriSciences under which the Dow companies will manufacture Epicyte's first five products. n