PARIS - The French genomics company Hybrigenics S.A. raised EUR19.5 million (US$17.3 million) in a new funding round that brought in five new investors alongside its four existing ones.

Existing investors Apax Partners and Auriga of France, IMH of Germany and HealthCap of Sweden were joined by new investors, including the American venture capital fund Alafi Capital, as well as Rendex N.V. and Sofindev of Belgium, Lombard Odier of Switzerland and Medicis AG of Germany.

This was Hybrigenics' third funding round since it was founded at the end of 1997 and brings to $28.3 million the total it has raised to date. The first was completed in May 1998, when Apax Partners put up FFr6 million (US$1 million), while a year later Apax, Auriga, IMH and HealthCap provided FFr60 million between them. The latest one is expected to be the company's last private placement, since marketing manager Ciline Goupil told BioWorld International that it hoped to launch an initial public offering "before the end of 2001 if all goes well."

Paris-based Hybrigenics is specialized in functional proteomics and utilizes technology developed by the Institut Pasteur, a semi-public medical research establishment that spawned the company's president and CEO, Donny Strosberg, and other members of its research team. Its core technology, Protein Interaction Mapping (PIM), is a proprietary version of two-hybrid screening in yeast technology, which it has developed under license from the Institut Pasteur to map protein-protein interactions. Used in conjunction with proprietary technology for defining specific interaction domains (SIDs) and with tailor-made visualization software, PIMRider, this technology enables Hybrigenics to produce protein interaction maps that define the role of proteins in biological pathways and enable novel drug targets to be identified and validated.

Hybrigenics makes this technology available in the form of PIMRider bioinformatics databases accessed through the Internet. Its latest web-based product, PIMRider for hepatitis C virus (HCV), was launched at the end of September, and an earlier one for Helicobacter pylori has been online since May. The latter was the end product of the company's initial in-house research program.

The first subscriber to the HCV PIMRider database was the Israeli company XTL Biopharmaceuticals, of Rehovot, with which Hybrigenics had concluded a collaboration agreement a few weeks earlier for the joint development of novel drugs against HCV. Hybrigenics is to select potential drug targets using its PIMRider technology, while XTL will use its cell-based assays and Trimera mouse model of HCV to biovalidate these targets and corresponding therapeutic compounds for efficacy in the treatment of HCV.

Hybrigenics is engaged in several other research collaborations with organizations on both sides of the Atlantic. In May it teamed up with Lynx Therapeutics Inc., of Hayward, Calif., for the discovery of expressed genes and protein interactions and pathways in human obesity. Two months before that it signed an agreement with the French National Aids Research Agency (ANRS - Agence Nationale de Recherches sur le Sida), under which the ANRS is providing funding of FFr1.5 million for a two-year research program into protein interactions between human host cells and HIV with the aim of discovering potential new targets. And in January Hybrigenics entered a collaboration with the Canadian company BioSignal Inc., of Montreal, to validate BioSignal's Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) technology for the confirmation in mammalian cells of high-scoring protein-protein interactions identified in bacterial- or yeast-based assays.

Having "perfected and automated" its proprietary technologies and established an industrial facility for high-throughput screening of protein-protein interaction data at its Paris headquarters, Hybrigenics said it will use this money to finance its continued development, including possible acquisitions, with the emphasis on strengthening its international presence, especially in the U.S. It also plans to expand its human cell research programs targeting cancer, metabolic disorders and central nervous system diseases and increase the capacity of its production facility to meet the growing demand for protein-protein interaction screening both from third parties and for in-house programs.

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