Platform company Ingenium Pharmaceuticals AG raised EUR50 million (US$42.9 million) in second-round financing, a round that may be the largest private placement to date for a European biotechnology firm.
A transatlantic consortium, led by Schroder Ventures, of London and Sofinnova Partners, of Paris, participated in the deal. Other investors included Polaris Venture Partners, of Boston; Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., of New York; and European investors Index Ventures, Deutsche Bank, Sal. Oppenheim, IKB, New Medical Technologies, tbg and Bayern Kapital, as well as first-round investors TVM and Alpinvest.
Ingenium, of Martinsried, Germany, has undertaken a large-scale mouse mutagenesis program, from which it is deriving a broadly based clinical description of the function of every gene in the murine genome. The company aims to complete this task within the next 18 months, CEO Michael Nehls told BioWorld International.
"This, of course, is not a cheap enterprise," he said. But it offers significant time and cost advantages over alternative approaches, he said. The company has already completed work on several hundred genotypes.
Nehls used the term "deductive genomics" to describe Ingenium's approach. It differs from conventional functional - or "inductive" - genomics by starting from a phenotypic observation and then working back to the associated gene. "We go for the physiological change we observe from a genetic alteration," Nehls said.
The company tracks up to 200 different physiological parameters in each individual animal. "We essentially mimic a human clinic," Nehls said. Even its diagnostic screening equipment resembles that of a general hospital, he said, although it is scaled down to take account of the smaller subjects involved.
It uses positional cloning - a technique for following the inheritance of genetic markers that Nehls pioneered at the University of Freiburg - to link an observed phenotype with the underlying genetic alteration. "The genes we identify are not necessarily drug targets," Nehls said. But they can open doors into new biochemical pathways and lead to the identification of downstream targets linked to the same biological function.
Sequence information and gene expression data that underpin current genomics strategies cannot offer the same level of biologically relevant information, according to Nehls. Sequence information may be a good predictor of biochemical function, he said, but many genes that exhibit strong homology have widely differing biological effects. And, he added, gene expression profiling is biased toward those tissues that display strongest activities, even though weaker effects in other organs may be more physiologically significant. Developing a knockout mouse corresponding to each gene is not a viable option either, said Nehls. Leaving aside the huge costs involved, according to his estimate, the global research base is, at present, capable of delivering no more than about 1,000 such constructs per year.
Nehls positions Ingenium as a knowledge company. It is seeking partnerships with pharma companies that aim to build a comprehensive understanding of their main disease areas. It will also engage in target discovery alliances with biotechnology companies at a later stage of its development.
Ingenium was established in 1998 as a spin-off from the GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health in Munich. Its scientific founders include Rudi Balling, Martin Hrabe de Angelis, Wolfgang Wurst and Alexander Crawford. It obtained seed funding from Qiagen N.V., of Venlo, the Netherlands, and raised EUR12.5 million in first-round financing last year.
Nehls, who was previously vice president of genomics at Lexicon Genetics Inc., of The Woodlands, Texas, joined Ingenium as chief scientific officer a year ago and became CEO six months later. The latest injection of cash should be sufficient to take the company to an IPO within 18 to 24 months, he said.