PARIS - Two venture capital funds, Paris-based Sofinnova Partners and the Paris office of Apax Partners, provided initial funding of EUR7.6 million (US$6.7 million) on a 50-50 basis to a new firm set up to discover and develop drugs for disorders of the central nervous system (CNS). Called Neuro 3D, it has emerged from an incubation period of several months, during which it was financed by Sofinnova.

Based in the Mulhouse in eastern France, Neuro 3D is the brainchild of two scientists who have been collaborating for some years. One is Jean-Jacques Bourguignon, of the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, a chemist specialized in neuroscience who is characterized as a "discoverer." The other is Jean-Paul Macher, chairman of the scientific council of Forenap, a center for the clinical development of CNS drugs, who is described as a "developer." They teamed up with a self-styled "entrepreneur doctor," Charles Woler, who has worked for a number of international pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and is now CEO of Neuro 3D.

Woler told BioWorld International that the company is pursuing the dual corporate strategy of undertaking its own drug discovery and development programs based on the joint research conducted by Macher and Bourguignon over the past four years, as well as in-licensing promising compounds from third parties. Neuro 3D has filed two patent applications for the first products to emerge from its own programs, which are currently at the stage of pharmacological studies, and plans to file two more within the next six months.

The company is focusing on two types of CNS disorders, anxiety and severe pain, in which Woler considers existing therapeutic options limited, and Neuro 3D is working on "completely new mechanisms of action." Its strategy is to establish proof of concept in animal models, followed by Phase I trials on healthy volunteers in the second half of 2001. After further pharmacological profiling in Forenap's psychopharmacological center, with which Neuro 3D has negotiated a fee-for-service arrangement, Phase II trials of the lead compound for anxiety should start in the first quarter of 2002.

Woler said Euro 3D is negotiating with pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., Europe and Japan to in-license CNS drugs that have reached the Phase I or early Phase II stage of development. He said he is in no hurry to close a deal and is prepared to take the time needed to select the right products. He expects to sign one or more licensing agreements around third quarter 2001.

On the strength of the progress Woler hopes Neuro 3D will have made on both strategic fronts, he plans to embark on another funding round in October 2001, although the funds just raised will last it for 12 to 15 months. Woler stressed that it is important for the company to have established proof of concept for its lead compound by then, especially if it is to attract other investors besides Apax and Sofinnova.

Euro 3D's workforce currently consists of six chemists working in its research laboratory in Strasbourg and Woler all alone in the company's head office in Mulhouse. But he will be joined shortly by a chief scientific officer, a European who is currently working in the U.S., while Macher and Bourguignon will act as consultants to Euro 3D.