By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

In its second round of financing, Quorex Pharmaceuticals Inc., a two-year-old Carlsbad, Calif.-based company developing antibiotics, raised $18.5 million.

The lead investor was Prism Venture Partners, of Westwood, Mass. Other participating investors include Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. (JJDC), the venture capital subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, of New Brunswick, N.J.; Tullis-Dickerson & Co. Inc., of Santa Fe, N.M.; Inglewood Ventures, of San Diego; China Development Industrial Bank, of Taiwan; and Pacific Growth Equities Inc., of San Francisco.

JJDC, Tullis-Dickerson and Inglewood were investors in the first round of financing a year ago that raised $2.2 million.

Following the Series B financing, Quorex, formerly known as Quorum, has about $19 million in available cash, said Robert Robb, president and CEO of Quorex.

"We're pleased to be able to raise this money in what I consider a soft biotech market," Robb said. "I'm particularly pleased that we were able to raise money from these investors."

Robb said Quorex intends to use the capital to accelerate its research and development, and to expand its staff and operating facilities. During the next six to nine months, Robb expects the staff to increase from 14 employees to about 35.

Quorex discovers, develops and commercializes antibiotics for bacterial infections, including those that are resistant to drugs currently on the market. The company's proprietary compounds inhibit a newly discovered bacterial signaling pathway that regulates virulence in a broad array of human pathogens.

Quorex's technologies include the recent discovery that many pathogenic bacteria use a common chemical "language" to communicate with one another and jointly regulate infectious mechanisms. These bacteria begin their "infection" only after they have communicated with each other that a critical mass, or "quorum," of bacteria is present in the host.

When this signaling pathway is interrupted, the pathogen's ability to cause infection is disabled. Quorex compounds target and interrupt this pathway as a means to destroy the "command and control" center of the bacterial "army" and therefore have the potential to create a new class of antibiotics that are nontoxic, broad spectrum, pathogen specific and that apply low selective pressure for the evolution of resistance mechanisms.

The company also said recent studies showed that Quorex compounds, when combined with existing antibiotics, significantly potentiate the killing action of those antibiotics against key bacterial targets in vitro. Animal feasibility studies are ongoing. n