BioWorld International Correspondent

SYDNEY, Australia - Alchemia Pty Ltd. gained a U.S.-based chairman and A$15.2 million (US$7 million) through a round of venture capital financing to expand both the company's research efforts and its U.S. business development group.

The financing by privately held Brisbane-based Alchemia is believed to be the largest venture capital round in Australia's biotechnology market to date.

Alchemia CEO Tracie Ramsdale said that the money will be used to expand the company's research efforts, particularly by building a bioassay facility to screen for drug candidates in specific areas, as well as to further develop already selected candidate molecules in the anti-inflammatory and cancer fields.

In addition, the company will expand its U.S. business development operations, which include an office in Redwood City, Calif., to service both the U.S. and European markets.

Besides expanding the U.S. operations, the board of Alchemia elected Paul Goddard, previously president and CEO of Elan Pharmaceuticals, a division of Elan Corp. plc, as chairman.

Ramsdale, who remains CEO, said that Goddard will bring a "wealth of experience" to Alchemia, particularly to the U.S. side of the business. Also, as a result of the appointment, many of the company's board meetings will be held in the U.S.

Alchemia's main business is making complex carbohydrates to order using a process involving a linker molecule. The linker molecule attaches the sugar molecules required to make a carbohydrate to a resin, but does not react with the sugars.

Carbohydrates have been difficult to manufacture in any great quantity, but Alchemia executives said their process can be used to make any custom-designed carbohydrates in bulk, once the right process has been worked out in the company's pilot plant in Brisbane.

Alchemia said in June that it established a joint venture with Dow Chemical Inc. under which Alchemia will work out the process and Dow will make the chemical in bulk.

Ramsdale said that there had been "considerable interest" from various parties in tailor-made carbohydrates.

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