By Matthew Willett

Cytokinetics Inc. raised $55 million in its third round of private financing to fund drug discovery and the development and commercialization of its cellular bioinformatics platform, Cytometrix.

The South San Francisco-based company, founded in 1998, discovers therapeutic compounds through its expertise in cytoskeletal pharmacology, which focuses on the cellular framework that affects cell division, cell motility, intracellular transport and regulation of cell polarity.

Cytokinetics said is seeking partners for development of several groups of lead compounds that represent, it said, the first known potent and specific small-molecule modulators of molecular motor activity.

President and CEO James Sabry said this third round of financing represents a validation of the company's cytoskeletal pharmacology platform.

"Cytometrix is a broad automated cellular biology platform that allows us to identify the cellular biological response of individual cells to a drug compound," Sabry told BioWorld Today. "It not only is used in-house as a part of our own discovery efforts, but also has wide applicability in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields, and we'll be marketing it using an application service provider model for broad use."

The funding will be used, Sabry said, to develop Cytometrix for marketing and internal drug discovery efforts, as well as to fund advancement of several lead targets.

"This is a company based not on one lead target, but on the fact that the cytoskeleton represents about 2 percent of the genomic load in the cell," Sabry said. "That's a large number of targets to be used, and we plan to fully mine this space to build multiple programs around multiple targets in this one area of biology where we're clearly the world leaders."

He said the funding will last the company about 2 and one-half years, and that in that time he expects to see Cytometrix marketed and two compounds in clinical trials.

Existing investors included Mayfield Fund, of Menlo Park, Calif.; Vulcan Ventures Inc., of Bellevue, Wash.; Sevin Rosen Funds, of Palo Alto, Calif.; and lead investors CSFB Private Equity, the global arm of the Credit Suisse Group.

New investment came from Alta Partners, of San Francisco, and Lombard Odier & Cie, of Geneva, Switzerland.

The company is developing its Cytometrix cellular product line, a series of databases on cytoskeletal pharmacology, high-resolution image tools and advanced automated instrumentation designed to measure and interpret cellular physiology.

Its drug discovery efforts focus on oncology with antimitotic agents, cardiovascular therapeutics that use inotropic agents, and antifungals.

The company initially financed operations with a $5.3 million Series A private equity round by Mayfield Fund, of Menlo Park, Calif., and Sevin Rosen Funds, of Palo Alto, Calif. Its second round of financing in September 1999 generated $20 million. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 9, 1999.)

The next logical step for Cytometrix is a public offering. Sabry said that's the company's financing goal.

"The company is moving to a point in its corporate development where we can effectively articulate the public market, and that's clearly our goal," he said. "We hope to have this financing take us through until we can do a public financing."