By Matthew Willett

Private German cancer research compnay Wilex Biotechnology GmbH closed its third round of financing, picking up EUR30 million (US$25.86 million) to fund clinical advancement of its two lead oncologics.

The Munich, Germany-based company is currently developing two anticancer compounds, a small-molecule urokinase plasminogen activation inhibitor that disrupts cancer cell metastasis and a renal cell carcinoma therapeutic antibody.

Wilex co-founder and CEO Olaf Wilhelm said the funding will advance the renal cell carcinoma therapeutic into Phase III testing, though it will not fully fund the antibody's development.

"This money should last until the beginning of 2003, but we didn't put in our financial planning any down payments or milestone payments, since we can't count on that money," Wilhelm told BioWorld Today from a conference in Berlin. "With the money we have so far, we should be able to fund our progress through 2002 and the beginning of 2003. However, if we get another product into clinical development that could shorten the time frame."

He added that the company has products in preclinical development that could be advanced into human testing in the near term.

"We plan to in-license another compound," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to have four compounds in clinical development, and we plan to bring the first compound [for renal cell carcinoma] to marketing approval in 2004."

The renal cell carcinoma therapeutic, he said, has a potential market of $260 million in Europe and the U.S. The company plans to pursue a self-marketing approach that will use partners in selected markets.

"We have a lot of possibilities," Wilhelm said. "The major issue before us is to expand our portfolio and establish our marketing concept. We, in special areas in Europe, plan to market our products on our own, and for the U.S. market and other markets we're going to market partly on our own and partially through seeking a licensing partner in big pharma."

Competitively, he said, his company is one of only a handful of biotechs in Europe that is product-oriented.

"From the European standpoint, compared to the UK and the U.S. where companies are usually product companies, in Europe, on the continent, the difference is that most companies are really platform companies," Wilhelm said. "In Germany there are a handful of product companies doing clinical development, so that gives us a chance to stake out a ground. In the international field with product companies we have a good standing, but it's a tough business, whether you're in California or Germany."

Existing investors Apax Partners and Co., of Munich, and Earlybird Venture Capital, of Hamburg, Germany, led the financing. They were joined by funds advised by TVM Techno Venture Management GmbH, of Munich; Merlin BioSciences Ltd., of London; Julius Baer Kapitalanlage AG, of Frankfurt, Germany; Bank Vontobel, of Zurich, Switzerland; and BioConnect, of Frankfurt.

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