LONDON - Onyvax Ltd., a specialist in cancer vaccines, has raised #10.5 million in a private funding round. Investors include Merlin Biosciences, MB Venture Capital Fund, 3i, SR One and Alta Berkley.

Rob Johnson, commercial analyst at London-based Onyvax, told BioWorld International, "We were going for #7 to #9 million, so we are pleased with this. We will be spending a large chunk on clinical trials, and the funding is expected to last three years."

Onyvax's vaccines use cancer cells to stimulate the immune system, but they are not based on cells taken from individual patients and can be manufactured cost-effectively in bulk. It is envisioned that the vaccines would be used in combination with existing therapies to contain or destroy residual cancer cells.

The company's lead product, for prostate cancer, will enter Phase II in the first quarter of 2001. There will be 45 patients in each arm, and Johnson said it is hoped to have the results within two years. In the Phase I/II trial, 60 patients were randomized to receive one of four different combinations of cell lines, in combination with an immune potentiator SRL 172, licensed from SR Pharma plc. Results of this trial are expected before year's end.

A second Phase I/II trial in colorectal cancer began in April, with patients still being recruited. There are three separate arms to this trial, with patients being treated with either a vaccine produced from a number of colorectal cancer cell lines irradiated to make them inactive, or a vaccine based on an anti-idiotype antibody, 105AD7, or a combination of both.

105AD7 mimics a naturally occurring molecule, Decay Accelerating Factor, which is overexpressed in a number of cancers, including colorectal and ovarian. 105AD7 induces antibody and cell-mediated responses and is expected to counter the inactivation of the complement system induced by cancer cells.

Johnson said the company was "flexible" on whether it will complete the trials alone or seek a partner at any stage of development.

Onyvax was founded in 1997 around research carried out by Angus Dalgleish, professor of clinical oncology at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London and research director of Onyvax.