BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Therapeutic vaccines specialist Oxxon Pharmaccines Ltd. raised £4.7 million (US$7 million) in its second-round funding, enabling the company to progress four projects to Phase II over the next 18 months.

CEO David Phillips told BioWorld International, "We are very pleased with this. In the current environment you don't know what the window is like for raising money."

Phillips said the money would be used to accelerate development programs, with treatments for melanoma and hepatitis B due to enter the clinic in the first quarter of 2001. The company has rights to two other programs, in malaria and HIV, which are currently being developed by academic partners.

In addition, Oxxon will set up an in-house R&D facility in Oxford, giving it independence from the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University, where the company was founded.

The round was funded by new, private investors and the existing shareholders, including MVM's UK Medical Ventures Fund No. 1 and Neomed Innovations.

Oxxon's prime boost technology consists of sequential immunization with different vectors delivering the same antigen. The immune system is first primed with a DNA vaccine, followed by a booster with a recombinant viral vector, modified vaccinia virus Ankara.

This two-stage approach has been shown to generate CD8-plus cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) immune responses against target antigens of pathogenic viruses, bacteria and parasites, and may be significant in certain cancers.

A Phase I/IIa trial using Oxxon's prime boost technology in a challenge study in malaria, and a Phase I in HIV, are in progress. The two trials are being carried out by academic collaborators at Oxford University, and Oxxon has the option to take on development after the pilot studies.

Patients currently are being screened for a Phase I/IIa study in melanoma. The aim of the trial, and a further trial in hepatitis B, is to establish safety and immunogenicity.

"The rationale for CTL-based immunotherapy is convincing, although current methods for eliciting CTL responses in melanoma patients have not been particularly successful," Phillips said. The trial will monitor levels of epitope-specific CD8-plus T cells, to confirm induction and amplification of the desired CTL responses.

The company also is in active discussions to find one or two corporate partners. "We have a platform technology, and we plan to look at other disease areas," Phillips said. "We have had a lot of interest, and the value of the technology will go up as we get results from the trials."