By Brady Huggett

Targeted Molecules Corp. is just starting out, but the president, CEO and co-founder of the biotechnology company focused on homing peptides said it is heading in a direction no one else is going.

TMC exploits the technology platform of in vivo screening of phage combinatorial libraries for peptides that home to specific tissues or sites of disease. It will use this technology to develop a molecular map of the mouse and human vasculature.

"There is no competition out there," said Elias Lazarides, CEO and president of Targeted Molecules. "There are companies that talk about targeting through an antibody, but thus far all successes have been for circulating tumor cells. These companies are very few and far between and they do not go beyond cancer. They do not go to solid organs tissues."

Lazarides said TMC, of La Jolla, Calif., has three uses for this technology.

First, the peptides can be used for targeted drug delivery and the delivery of other therapeutic compounds to specific disease sites in the body. Also, gene therapy vectors, liposomes and therapeutic proteins can be directed and delivered to tumors or other disease sites.

Second, the use of homing peptides allows for the identification of their receptors. By definition, these homing peptides identify tissue-specific and disease-specific expression of their receptors in blood vessels. The receptors then are drug targets.

Third, TMC has licensed a method for non-surgical organ and tissue ablation. Peptides capable of inducing apoptosis by disrupting mitochondrial membranes in target cells can induce tissue-specific shrinkage when coupled with homing peptides.

TMC was founded in July by Erkki Rouslahti, the president and CEO of the Burnham Institute and also the chairman of the board for Targeted Molecules. Over the last six years, he and his colleagues developed the company's technology platform.

The Burnham Institute, of La Jolla, an independent, non-profit public benefit organization dedicated to biomedical research, is a major stockholder in TMC, Lazarides said. TMC is still small - while the company is hiring, the only employees at this time are Lazarides, his executive administrator and a third person recently added to head bioinformatics.

TMC will be announcing a collaboration deal shortly, Lazarides said, in which TMC will contribute its targeting peptides for targeted drug delivery research. That will bring in some cash for the new company, and it will allow time for TMC to raise more through traditional financing avenues.

"We are in the middle of a Series B financing from a venture capital investor," Lazarides said.

Lazarides said the company has two major goals for the upcoming years.

"One is to identify companies that work initially in targeting in cancer, and we want to structure alliances with them for targeting their proprietary cancer drugs," Lazarides said. "We want to structure our alliances so we have research and development financing as well as an equity investment for the access and further development of the Angiomics Library. Two, we are looking for a major investment from either a corporate partner or a venture partner for the development of our Angiomics Library.

"The major money needs to be invested by a major capital investment firm or a major corporate partner to help us get there," Lazarides added. "We estimate we will need about $35 million to develop our proprietary Angiomics Library with peptides targeting a large number of tissues."

Lazarides said TMC is looking to have at least one investigational new drug application for targeting purposes filed by the end of its third year.

While the Mouse Sequencing Consortium toils away mapping the mouse genome, Lazarides waits, knowing the final product will be beneficial to TMC.

"The map of the mouse genome will be a free public database," Lazarides said. "Used in conjunction with TMC's proprietary vascular map of the mouse, the ability to predict human disease and therapeutic targets expands dramatically. This can only benefit the business future of TMC."

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