By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

Five years ago, investors might have believed protein biochips were some kind of health food, and one measure of how that's changed came in the form of a $32.6 million Series D financing carried out by Zyomyx Inc., which also signed up its second partner.

"We see this as being close to a mezzanine round for us, so we wanted to increase our shareholder list," said Lawrence Cohen, chief operating officer for Hayward, Calif.-based Zyomyx, which attracted nine new investors.

The company has about $45 million in the bank, with a burn rate of about $1 million per month, Cohen told BioWorld Today.

Founded in July 1998, Zyomyx has developed arrays of fully functioning proteins, called Proteomics Biochips, which are part of an integrated system to detect specific antigens in samples, such as cell lysates.

The company raised $22 million in a private placement in March, thanks to its new way to analyze delicate protein structures, and aims to use the proceeds of the more recent financing to capitalize further on the increasing interest in proteomics. (See BioWorld Today, April 20, 2000.)

"It's diversifying," Cohen said. "You see a lot more people entering into the field, coming at it from a number of different angles, with devices like ours and with databases."

More proof of the proteomics interest came Monday, when Zyomyx disclosed, along with completion of the fund-raising, a collaboration with Melbourn, England-based Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc (CAT), to develop high-density protein chips based on antibody arrays.

Under the terms, CAT will supply human antibody fragments from its phage display libraries, and Zyomyx will provide its technology and expertise for the joint development of parallel antibody arrays to detect proteins from biological mixtures.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

"Our goal is to be able to provide off-the-shelf and custom-designed protein chips, and these [collaborations] are helping us to refine the product," Cohen said. "We hope by the first half of 2001, we can get some of these things cemented."

Zyomyx's first partner was Tokyo-based Fujirebio Inc., which signed up last month to develop protein biochips for research applications in the areas of diagnostics, pharmacogenomics and screening tools for biomedical research.

Fujirebio will support research and development efforts for three years, and pay royalties on future sales in return for exclusive commercialization rights in Japan.

With initial public offerings having lately returned to biotech's realm of possibility, Cohen said Zyomyx is talking with investment bankers.

"The only thing we can do is prepare ourselves to take advantage of market openings," he said.

New investors in the financing are Credit Suisse First Boston, of Boston; Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, of New York; Softbank, of Tokyo; Fujirebio; MDS Proteomics Inc., of Toronto; China Development Investment Bank, of Taiwan; Sumitomo Corp. of America, of Tokyo; Invus, of New York; and NIF Ventures, of Tokyo.

Previous investors taking part include Lombard Odier & Cie, of Zurich, Switzerland; Skyline Ventures, of Palo Alto, Calif.; Alloy Ventures, of Palo Alto; eHealth Technology Fund, of Watertown, Mass.; Yasuda Enterprise Development, of Tokyo; and 511 Equities Corp., of New York.